Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Futurists are Saying

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I attended the 2011 World Future Society annual conference last week.  Days 3 and 4 of the conference had quite the array of sessions to choose from. 

As a short detour from this post topic, my 11:00 session on Sunday was canceled and I struck up a conversation with a guy while in line for a coffee.  We ended up talking for over an hour about politics, iStock_000009196143XSmallhealth care, taxes, forms of government, war, religion, economics, etc.  This guys was brilliant (PhD Economics, strategist in the US Navy’s ‘think tank’ in Washington, DC) and our talk was as good or better than any conference session I’ve experienced.  Isn’t it amazing how you can get so engrossed in a deep intellectual discussion with a complete stranger?  I think that online learning practices should require connecting students to brilliant people for the purpose of engaging in deep learning – it’s a powerful thing.

Edie Weiner (president) and Arnold Brown (chairman) for Weiner, Edrich, Brown (@WEBfuturetrends) spoke about hot technology trends.  Their company bio says they are

“the pioneer foresight consulting firm in providing strategic scanning services. Continually tracking social, economic, political and technological trends, WEB serves client organizations by enhancing their capacity to clearly look ahead and to respond profitably to change.”

Their session was a full house with standing room only with lots of live tweeters sharing at high speed… They shared their list of the 7 hottest technologies shaping the future.  Brain research stood out and they claim that science is rapidly learning a lot about how our brains tick through the use of fMRI and other technologies.  Apparently, male brains are more focused on infrastructure and economy while female brains are focused on society, health, education, and ecology.  Female brains develop 20 million more connections between the two sides of the brain but male brains are more specialized.  Two different thinking capacities leads to different conclusions, both equally important.  Brains are multi-sensory and everything mediated in life is influenced by sense of smell.  They advocate for replicating the sense of smell in digital spaces to create a more realistic experience.

More people are “living” in virtual reality (realistic games, environments like second life, social networks), they are owning avatars, buying and giving virtual gifts, etc.  Ask yourself this question “if my brain believes I am racing a Ferrari in the Italian countryside, am I?”.  They talked about “light space technology” being created by Microsoft where machines project onto any surface – the surface becomes digitally touch sensitive, a person can pick up the virtual (projected) item as a spot of light, carry it, set it down, and let it reproduce.  As virtual reality and machine-human interfaces get richer and deeper, the lines will blur even further… 

Precursor to the holodeck?

Think about the possibilities for 3D immersive learning environments.  Online learning today is mostly about putting courses into an online distance learning format which is very limiting.  But the possibilities for technology like this to turn online learning into a near reality experience are pretty compelling.

Another session I’d like to highlight had the title “Education in the Post Literate Age”.  William Crossman, director of CompSpeak 2050 Institute studies talking computers and oral cultures and Stacey Aldrich is the State Librarian for California.  They took opposing iStock_000015756375XSmallpositions on what the post literate age might look like.  William advocates for a future where there is no reading and writing but rather we use audio, speech, gesture, body, and all senses to access, manipulate, and communicate information.  He suggests that books are going away and text along with it.  He argues that a vast percentage of the worlds people are illiterate (reading, writing) and that moving to an oral culture assisted by computers will bridge the literacy gap.

“7. How to make sure that the human right of all people, nonliterate or literate, with disabilities or without, to access the stored information of our world via talking computers is realized in the 21st Century.”, CompSpeak 2050 Institute

No surprise but Aldrich disagrees and argues that words will remain an important method of transmitting information and knowledge.  She advocates for continued skills and learning / understanding of symbols and related technology in context – we need to be able to make connections between video and words and become highly skilled at critical thinking when using information.  She describes the library of the future like this:

  • Spaces for public education for the learner to be self-sufficient
  • Collecting, preserving, and connecting
  • Bring people together to offer opportunities for them to succeed
  • Will be virtual and physical spaces
  • Books won't disappear, but will be accessible somewhere, somehow
  • Librarians have skills to find and connect the pieces
  • People want packaged information - Google doesn't do this (yet)
  • Librarians can network the right people
  • Crossman adds that Librarians are the guardians of the freedom of information

I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the final keynote delivered by Thomas Frey (@ThomasFrey), executive director and senior futurist of the DaVinci Institute.

“The past is very knowable but we’re going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future”

“The future will happen with or without us agreeing to participate”

“The future creates the present, change the vision of the future to change decisions today”

“The future is highly predictable, not as random and uncontrollable as normally thought”

iStock_000001843223XSmallI know that not all of us particularly enjoy pondering the future.  We find it somewhat scary and uncertain.  Others see it as bright and optimistic.  I think it is important for all of us to be thinking forward and deciding today what we will do different to embrace or change what we thing the future will bring.