Rapid change ahead

SN 16 - InnovationAheadThe first keynote speaker was American scientist, author and futurist, Dr Jack Bacon, who told his audience of several hundred that they need to prepare their pupils for an era of rapid technological

advancement. He said history shows that any intellectual achievement instantly helps all of society, e.g. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

“Everybody gains from this insight. These great leaps become part of our society and they are becoming more frequent. Over decades and decades of human activity, you can see this exponential growth in productivity, which comes back to creativity. We reinvent ourselves.”

Since the Renaissance or the industrial age, human beings had roughly doubled their capability and output every 20 to 30 years but this was dramatically accelerating with a great accumulation of knowledge, he said. Society improved with each intellectual advance. He gave the example of painting, which was flat and monochromatic for 25,000 years, but improved techniques during the Rennaissance suddenly meant all major artists could aspire to that level.

“It’s inevitable that we’ll be seeing an explosion of thought and creativity about now.” Computers’ ability to store, sift and process information had greatly added to human capability, he said. “Silicon doubles its ability to provide information every 540 days.”

Personal communications had revolutionised in the last few years. Once, a major shift had taken centuries – now they happened several times in a lifetime. Breakthroughs, such as cell phones, were now coming every few years. A rapidly growing world population meant there were not only more brains to draw on in the developing world but education was taking off in those countries and the people were quickly adopting new technology. What is more, they could freely tap into any one of 37 universities around the world which had their entire curriculum on the internet, Dr Bacon said.

“There are now six billion people out there, training on the net and starting to redefine society. All those people in the developing world are about to start talking to you. They are looking at web pages.

“In the future, everyone will be online. Hundreds of thousands of computers are going out into the developing world. Half of the cell phones going out into the world this year are going into Africa. Fibre optic cables are being laid everywhere.

“Pay attention to the developing world. Establish telecommunications links with partner schools around the world. You have the technology to link your students into the places where the changes are happening fastest.”

The World Community Grid meant children could be part of a changing scene right across the planet, he said.

Everywhere, rapidly rising educational standards were changing the world. “Starting from about 15 years ago, we’ve tripled the patent rate and it’s getting even faster.”

It was probably now about six or seven times the old patent rate up until the 1990s, he said. University qualifications were rising rapidly with PhDs in particular being gained at perhaps thousands of times the rate they were at the end of World War Two. The rate had quintupled in China in the last five years. American women passed men in graduation rates in 1988 and had stayed there ever since. All genders and cultures were now communicating with each other.

“Young people are thinking globally and are solving global problems. Now comes the challenge of how we prepare the kids for that.”

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