Fall Break was good, but it’s time again to look to the future.
Midterm presentations begin today in FoL, led by Chris and then, time and readiness permitting, Jason, Kayla, Matthew, Elizabeth, Kevin, Marie, or James.
Today’s reading runs an interesting gamut from nanotech (Eric Drexler, the apparently-moribund nano-guru, says it can solve our climate crisis in almost no time) to world government (Stewart Brand‘s improbable “whole earth” solution, coupled with lots less of us) to fusion to synthetic biofuels and green oil and geo-engineering and radically transparent software.
But I’m most struck by the least extreme and most far-reaching observation in today’s reading, from Haim Harari: education has always changed everything, for the relatively-privileged-and-few who’ve had access to it. Computing technology now brings so much closer the day when educational opportunity can plausibly claim, at last, to be truly universal. If we’re to grow the brains and hearts that can *repair (heal, transform) our broken world we’d better attend to this message. (And the magazine messenger.)
(That was 40 pages, but we want to finish this book next week so here are a few more observations.#)
E-texts “flatten the world,” in a good way (says David Myers). Do they flatten the experience of reading too? Or is that just a reading-snob’s self-indulgent aesthetic judgment that pales next to the democratizing possibilities for those throughout the world to whom literacy in any form is a novelty and a liberation?
TED’s Chris Anderson offers the seductive scenario of global celebrity for effective teachers who used to toil in unrecognized obscurity, just like that break-dancing kid in his inspiring Talk. The whole world is watching and waiting to be enlightened, as the walls of the world wide classroom expand to fit the frame of those ubiquitous smart phones with the high-res screens. Heady stuff.
Keith Devlin is drunk on mobile phone possibilities too:
Within my lifetime I fully expect almost every living human adult, and most children, in the world to own one. (Neither the pen nor the typewriter came even close to that level of adoption, nor did the automobile.) That puts global connectivity, immense computational power, and access to all the world’s knowledge amassed over many centuries, in everyone’s hands. The world has never, ever, been in that situation before. It really will change everything.
Can you hear him now? How many bars…?
Roger Schank says in “Wisdom Reborn” that not only won’t we need old-school brick-&-mortar classrooms in the future, we’ll not need libraries either. (We’ll have “reminding machines.”)
And David Gelernter says we really won’t need teachers. Anybody can be a “personal learning consultant,” and “any trustworthy adult” can supervise “cloud-based, parent chosen learning tracks.” O boy. Don’t tell the Tennessee Board of Regents about this.
Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer reminds, said we’re a Type 0.7 Civilization (“Type 1 can harness all of the energy of its home planet; Type 2 can harvest all of the power of its sun; and Type 3 can master the energy from its entire galaxy.”) That’s a bit deflating, but remember: we just got here. Our potential is great, if we can just get out of the 21st century’s political and economic mire and exploit our “game-changing technologies”.
Like what? Daniel Everett’s universal translator and Thomas Metzinger’s avatars, maybe?
Tors Norretranders thinks the key is Buddhist epistemology that’s seen through the “illusion of the ego” and begun to laugh at the world within us and without us.
Garrett Lisi is simultaneously heartbroken and inspired by the incredible thought that “our generation may be the last to die of old age.” And he calls for more ice, to try and settle a bet he calls “Pascal’s Wager for Singularitarians.” Will he/we win? Or will we never know?
Finally, and to me chillingly: “neurocosmetics” promises to erase the old you altogether. In conventional cosmetology the goal is to make people forget your old look. Marcel Kinsbourne asks (much like Richard Powers in Generosity): “Does anyone care, or even remember the person’s previous appearance? So it will be” with the new personal identities coming soon to a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) boutique near you.
But, who are you again?
# NOTES TO STUDENTS:
(1) Syllabus adjustment. we’re taking longer than anticipated with This Will Change Everything, so we’ll push ahead through p. 334 for Monday and finish on Wednesday, just in time for Exam #2. We’ll begin Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget on November 1. Bill McKibben’s Eaarth is now pushed back to November 17.
(2) Midterm report essays from non-presenters are due Nov. 1, not October 27.