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Future issues in socio-technical change in education

Dave Cliff - opening keynote at CAL 09 conference, Brighton

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Gráinne Conole
23 March 2009

Dave focused on findings from a Future lab Project – ‘Beyond current horizons’. He was involved in a working group with Claire O’Malley and Josie Taylor.

Their work focused on identifying future trends in particular developments in computing bioscience and maths that might interact with social science in the next 15 years.

Three way interaction triangle: 1) focus of research in the labs, 2) Societal demands and 3) policy makers
Dave then moved on to outline 8 trends that are likely to have a profound impact on society. He presented a vision of the near future that was fantastical, science fiction in real life.

8 social trends

  1. 1.    Moore’s Law, 1968, logarithmic scale, relative cost per unit, cost of computing halves once every two years.
  2. 2.    Sixe of computers have continued to decrease  - from mainframes, to mini-computers, to PCs, to laptops, distributed LANS, the internet, etc. Once every ten years there has been a major shift in the computing industry. The next big thing is Data-center computing. blade servers – a laptop with no cloth on – a mother board and memory, can fit 50 machines in something the size of a wardrobe. 200, 000 machines in a shed. On the demand computing, utility computer, sun N-1. Utilise these computers together. On demand – real time English speech to text to Japanese – allocates a set of computers to the call. Economies of scale can the economics of doing high speed computing – everyone has access to this, like a utility – pay for duration of use. Doesn’t cost that much money, based on the marginal cost of the computing. Cloud computing data centers. Google took the patent for Sun– they have now built five or six of these data centers. The big switch – Nicholas Carr. Move to centralised remotely accessed data centers. The world will have access to high performance computing at virtual zero cost. The computers out there in the cloud. Animoto – founded by five people, upload photos plus some music. The animoto software produces a video of this in time to the music. They rented space on amazon. Were using ca. 50 blade servers a day, then suddenly up to 3750 in three working days. Signing up 25000 new customers an hour. Ubiquitous amorphous computation. A memory device about the size of a grain of rise with a built in antenna, could be embedded ina sheet of paper, 10 megabits per second data transit rate – 10 times faster than Bluetooth, storage capacity range 256kbits to 4mbits could store a very short video clip, several images or dozes of pages of text. Computer devices in every type of artefacts
  3. 3.    Next really small thing – Quantum Computing . Moore’s law is about it hit a brick wall by 2012 printed circuitry will be so small that quantum mechanical phenomena will begin to interface with desired properties. STM image shows chemically self assembled nanowires that are just 2 nanometers (ie 6 atoms) wide. The human brain amazing from an engineering perspective – could construct a big data centre equivalent to the power of the brain. Move to biological computer rather than silicon based. Dr. Klaus-Peter Zauner – Southampton University. A walking robot controlled by a living biological cell.
  4. 4.    Psyco-pharmacology. Take someone not very bright give them some drugs increases their intelligence level. Brain science, addiction and drugs. Use of cognitively enhancing drugs. People in the future may supplement their intelligence with drugs. Will it eventually normalise? In the 80s thought inappropriate to use calculators now standard, move to open book exams. Ben Goldacre – Scientist writing in the Guardian, use of omega 3 and brain functioning. Also move towards bionic enhancers, already available for hearing, the bionic eye will be available soon. www, Prof Hugh Herr, MIT, lost both his legs, focus on body-machine interfaces and the development of intelligent prosthetics. Technologies to augment our sensory or physical states.
  5. 5.    Externalisation of cognition – memories of life. Alan Dix. 2004 could store a continuous record of a life on a grain of sand. Our capacity for storing data has become so large – it has raised a whole load of new questions.
  6. 6.    Artificial Intelligence. AI is hard. We can do things very well – like big blue beating a human chess player. Dream of building humanoid robots, but still in its infancy. Domestic robots are here – iRobot, 4 million sold, roomba - autonomous vacuum cleaner., Packbots – used in the army. Amazon mechnicam turk – can sign up to this and recognise a bunch of images. Easy for humans, hard for computers.
  7. 7.    Three-D printers in the future. This will change material science. Will enable you to put internal structures into materials and hence more closely mimic natural biology, such as use of honey comb structures. Can move to printing plastic electronics.
  8. 8.    Cell broadband engine processor – inside a gaming device. ICT Systems of Systems (SoS) complexity is increasing exponentially. Our management capability is not keeping up. So we are moving towards constructing systems that we no longer understand or can manage. Sometime in the near future we will reach a socioeconomic criticality. We need to understand better systems level thinking.



Final thought – perhaps we shouldn’t just have a focus on developing technologies for learning, but we also need to ensure we give learners a grounding in basic science and argumentation.

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Patrick McAndrew
11:23am 23 March 2009

Thanks Grainne - very helpful for those of us not there. I heard Dave speak before on this subject - it is good to hear about these future ideas but I sometimes find that they tend to hard to then relate back to how we need to consider them now.

Gráinne Conole
11:29am 23 March 2009

Hi Patrick

yes it was an excellent talk - so much in there it is going to take a while to process and make sense of!

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