Exponential Growth, Technology and Higher Education

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I recently attended a lecture by visiting professor, and Gadget Show presenter, Jason Bradbury. The lecture was titled “The Thousand Year Decade”. The premise being that we will experience the same rate of progress of the last thousand years within the next ten. What does that mean for technology and what effect will that have on Higher Education?

 

“For the vast majority of human existence, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look pretty much the same as the one in which you were born.” Big Idea: Technology Grows Exponentially

 

Exponential Technology

Even in my lifetime (never ask a woman her age or hazard a guess) I have witnessed technological progress that has happened at an ever increasing rate. The first PC my family owned involved loading every piece of software you wanted to use on to the PC individually from multiple floppy disks. (It has been so long since I have written the words floppy disk I had to double check the spelling.) Now you can buy something no bigger than the palm of your hand at a third of the cost, with more computing power and a universe of software and features.

What is most interesting is that the rate of progress is constantly increasing. The graph below shows the rate of technological ability in fifty years. “Fifty years out, the technology … is a quadrillion times more advanced than today”.

speed-technological-advancement_50years

Predictions for the next 25 years

By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000.

By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways.

By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade.

By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in physical world at a whim.

By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud. Ray Kurzweil’s Mind-Boggling Predictions for the Next 25 Years

So what does that mean for Higher Education

“Your brain is programmed to be linear. But in these next few decades the rate of change is growing so fast that almost everything we can conceive can happen.” Peter Diamandis

Jisc has attempted to map the future landscape of Higher Education now, in 3 years and beyond. Flexibility, adaptive learning and personalisation are all recurring themes.

Jisc - Key Landscapes

Change is inevitable and rapid. Higher Education needs to be adaptable and flexible, keeping its eyes firmly on the horizon. As technology changes so must our curriculum, infrastructure and research. The problems that once seemed insurmountable will be solvable. How can we capitalise on these new technologies? How do we keep ahead of the sector?

Institutions need to be ready to support staff through change. Resource needs to be allocated to digital technology and digital capabilities. Particularly for the training and nurture of digital skills. Ray Kurzweil predicts a point known as The Singularity “when the exponential growth of the power of computers and technology hits such a speed that it fundamentally changes the world, and humans’ role in it.”

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