There is a fairly constant deluge of speculations on the internet about technology and disruption, but three recent articles discussing developments predicted to happen in the next 15-20 years (!) have particularly caught my eye.
Firstly, from the Singularity Hub, These Technologies Will Shift the Global Balance of Power in the Next 20 Years explores energy futures, robotics and digital manufacturing. It makes the case that solar power will rise to be a dominant source of energy, bringing to an end the era of oil in the next 15 years; far faster than most people are expecting. It goes on to suggest that robotics will completely change how and where products are made and that robots in their turn will be displaced by digital manufacturing.
…don’t be surprised if by 2030, the industrial robots go on strike, waving placards saying “stop the 3D printers: they are taking our jobs away.”
Wired’s contribution, Dell. EMC. HP. Cisco. These Tech Giants Are the Walking Dead, deals with technological changes that are happening right now. [Note that this article is not entirely safe for work…] It is an exploration of disruption triggered by the very recent purchase by computer maker Dell of data storage company EMC (for $67 billion…). In short the argument is that these traditional purveyors of network, storage and processing machines will be made irrelevant by the vast web-based (“Cloud”) services provided by companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook.
If you use Amazon, you don’t need servers and other hardware from Dell and HP and EMC and Cisco—and you don’t need databases from Oracle and IBM.
And, back on the Singularity Hub, there is discussion of Ray Kurzweil’s Wildest Prediction: Nanobots Will Plug Our Brains Into the Web by the 2030s. Now, Kurzweil is a controversial figure and not all accept that the singularity is near. However the article does point out that
As reported, “of the 147 predictions that Kurzweil has made since the 1990s, fully 115 of them have turned out to be correct, and another 12 have turned out to be “essentially correct” (off by a year or two), giving his predictions a stunning 86% accuracy rate.”
The article explores some of the consequences of Kurzweil being right about this, including brain-to-brain communication and downloadable expertise, and notes that
If this future becomes reality, connected humans are going to change everything. We need to discuss the implications in order to make the right decisions now so that we are prepared for the future.
The first of these articles ends by noting the importance of education in preparing societies for these kinds of changes:
Countries that have invested in educating their populations, built strong consumer economies, and have democratic institutions that can deal with social change will benefit — because their people will have had their basic needs met and can figure out how to take advantage of the advances in technology.
And this, really, is the point of this post, whether or not the predictions discussed above turn out to be largely right or not, they need debating in advance – and not just by experts, but by all of society.
Key to making this happen is education, though I am less sanguine than Vivek Wadhwa (quoted above) that we have an education system that really prepares all that pass through it for the kind of informed debate required.
If this education is going to happen then it will be particularly, though not exclusively, through D&T. This is why the new D&T KS3 Programmes of Study require pupils to be taught to
understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists
And the proposed new subject content guidance for GCSE D&T requires students to know and understand
- the impact on industry, enterprise, sustainability, people, culture, society and the environment of new and emerging technologies, production techniques and systems
- how the critical evaluation of new and emerging technologies, in contemporary and potential future scenarios, from different perspectives, such as ethics and the environment, informs design decisions
D&T departments need to embrace these aspects of the subject and provide leadership in their schools for these elements of critical education. Just designing and making stuff is not enough.