Future of Education Part II

In the coming years people are likely to experience the most profound transformation in all of history.  The  event is often called “The singularity” because it’s very hard to know what will happen after the the ongoing fast rise in machine intelligence fully surpasses human capabilities.  Computers are very likely to become conscious and “recursively self improving”, allowing them to reinvent themselves as frequently as they choose in various forms.

I agree with those who believe the coming conscious computers will be the last human invention as they will improve themselves at lightning speed and surpass human intelligence by *millions of times* within years or perhaps even minutes of developing consciousness.
It is clear that when this happens education as we know it in all forms will be completely obsolete as the computers will spawn sweeping and extremely rapid advances in all scientific fields including biology and engineering.  Many humans will choose to either merge with machines or simply “download” their entire consciousness into a machine.   This transition would be seamless, merely shifting the “substrate” we use to think from our existing electrochemical, carbon based neural structure to something more permanent – probably some combination of silicon, carbon, and thinking software programs.
Although some experts believe the machines are likely to pose an “existential risk” to humanity because they will see human irrationality as a threat, my view is that historically intelligence has bred greater compassion and we’ll first enjoy the benefits of the conscious machine’s vast intellectual and engineering capabilities and later merge with them by downloading our existing memories and full intellects into something somewhat analogous to a computer’s “hard drive”.    “Life” would then become what we chose to make it as we might simply simulate an earthbound existence in our new virtual world, or we might choose to simulate entirely different lives or experiences designed within a vast interconnected global intelligence.   The underlying technical infrastructure would continue to improve and maintain itself indefinitely, making these intelligences immortal if they chose that route.

Some interesting *current* developments along these lines are:

Singularity University in Silicon Valley – sponsored by Google and other tech leaders this school will teach about the sweeping changes coming as machine intelligence surpasses that of humans.

Blue Brain Project, Switzerland.   IBM and several researchers have completed a simulation of a neocortical column with Blue Gene, the world’s fastest supercomputer.This project will expand the simulation with the next generation of supercomputers coming within a few years and seeks to create a fully functional human-like brain simulation.

Synapse Project: This project was announced earlier this year is funded by the US Military’s DARPA division, which represents the best funded attempt to date to build a functional brain.  The SyNAPSE initial goal is to design a working version of a mammalian brain.  The approach differs from Blue Brain in that it’s largely based on finding a working “software solution” rather than using techniques to duplicate the brain’s hardware.

Future of Education Part I

My dad  (a retired Education Professor from NY State) asked for my view on technology and education in 200 words so I thought I’d post it here too.  Feel free to chime in with your views – I’d love to hear them and will pass along to dad, who is presenting education insights to his group:

Over the last 30 years it has been painful for me to watch how technology with all its wonderful educational potential has crept more than lept into the classroom. Even today, where most teachers are comfortable with technology in the classroom, students often remain more expert than teachers with computers.

However on the bright side of the education equation there are many remarkable new technologies and approaches to education that will gradually provide students with richer, more interactive, more international, less expensive, and higher quality forms of education.

Many innovations have already made their way into classrooms including games to help with all subjects, Google search to help children find topics, read news, track down information for reports, and more. Academics now routinely use the internet to research and report more effectively.  Many then blog their findings and opinions, leading to a rich interactive experience that helps to blur the often unnecessary lines drawn between classroom and real world or between teacher and student.

The most exciting example I have seen of a very innovative approach under development uses broadband internet, specialized projectors, regular video cameras, a special type of wall sized screen, and microsoft surface computing software. The system will allow groups of children from two different classrooms in different countries to interact in real time as if they were looking at each other through a transparent wall. Even the language barrier can be overcome using translation software so students in China or Europe could join with a class in the USA to learn and share cultural insights or any comments.

Science on a Sphere

Wow, NOAA has a great educational tool – a large spherical display representing earth, using computers and projectors to animate the display.  It is called Science on a Sphere.

Here’s a list of locations that have this.

It looks like a schools could build one of these for themselves, though I’m not clear any have done it and not clear on copyright issues – they say this is not an open source project.   It appears the cost would be in the neighborhood of 5-10,000 for the hardware consisting of 4 projectors and 5? computers, but I think the main challenge for schools would be the room.   Many schools don’t have a “spare room” they could easily dedicate to this project and it appears it’s complicated enough that it would be difficult to put up and take down for each lesson.

But what a great concept!   A few years ago we visited the Delorme world HQ back east and they had a  scale model of earth that was 3 stories high and rotated.   But the NOAA Science on a Sphere is better because you could project data and topography and vary the lessons.

Of course as a cheap alternative teachers should (MUST!) get “Google Earth” to all the students they have.    Google earth is arguably the best cheap visualization tool ever to hit geography and if you have not seen it get it now – it’s free and fantastic.