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TECH TALK: Letter to a 2005 Baby: 10 Big Ideas (Part 5)

June 24th, 2005 · No Comments

Dear Abhishek,

7. Rethinking Education

As I watch you grow, I think about how you will learn. There is more information in the world accessible to you than ever before. The mental models that you need to build are going to be much more complex than I ever had to worry about. And yet, the way we educate our children has barely changed in the past generation. That is what I worry about.

Education is perhaps the single most important factor that makes a person. We are still trying to teach children various things in our schools. We should be teaching them to learn more than anything else. But the tools we have on hand have barely evolved. Our teachers and educators have not yet understood the world that has changed so much due to developments in both computing and connectivity in the past two decades.

There is undoubtedly a need to rethink education. I dont know what the right answer is. But for now, I will leave you to ponder these thoughts by Atanu Dey: The present educational system evolved in simpler times when technologies were comparatively rudimentary. All you had were books, blackboards, and hard-copy libraries as teaching and learning tools, and live teachers giving real-time instructions. Now we have (the possibility of) broadband access to the world wide web, electronic libraries, distance education, radio, TV, CDs, DVDs. Things that were not written about or heard about just a generation ago. The tools and technological capabilities have evolved astonishingly. Therefore the educational process cannot but be subject to radical change as well.

The last three Big Ideas are quick-takes. These are still quite new, but I want to mention them here so you are at least aware of them. We have future letters to discuss them in greater detail!

8. Biotech and Nanotech

Many a person has said that the future belongs to the three techs infotech, biotech and nanotech. Much of what I have discussed so far has been in the context of infotech not because it is more important than the others, but because thats the area I understand best. In your life, however, the impact of biotech and nanotech will be equally large. So, make sure you keep track of developments in both these areas. Whether it is in the use of biology through genetics to find cures for some of the diseases that continue to afflict us or the creation of quantum computers, all I can say is that you will need to track these areas closely because there will be cross-pollination of ideas across these tech segments.

9. Personal Fabrication

I have just started reading a book by Neil Gershenfeld s book Fab, which discusses the coming era of personal fabricators, giving us the capability to make virtually anything right on our desktop. The Economist (Mar 23, 2005) wrote about Gershenfelds Fab Lab recently: Dr Gershenfeld believes the world is poised for a personal-fabrication revolution. Fab lab will, he hopes, be part of it. Just as computing power moved from million-dollar mainframes to hundred-dollar PCs, industrial-scale machinery is, in his opinion, beginning a transition to the desktop. While personal fabricators will not replace mass production, he believes that within the next few years they will allow individuals and small businesses to customise products to their needs. Am just wondering if, instead of getting you Lego blocks, I should get you a Fab Lab on your next birthday!

10. Intelligent Machines

As I watch you grow, I am fascinated by how you learn and think. At the heart of this is the brain. So, how does your brain work? That is what I am trying to figure out as I read Jeff Hawkins On Intelligence. The book describes Hawkins theory that the brain is not a computer, but a pattern-matching prediction system. The brain is intelligent because, according to Hawkins, it lets you imagine the future. So, could that help us build intelligent machines in the future? Ponder this from Business 2.0: Hawkins believes such intelligent machines are at the same stage the programmable computer was at in 1950. He ventures a prediction of his own: We can build these things faster than humans, with a deeper sense of thought, and can build them with special senses. Their sensory input won’t need to be limited to the five human senses. They could gather data from infrared, radar, magnetic, microscopic, and telescopic sources, to name a few. And their sensors need not be attached to a body. They could be spread out across vast geographies.

So, these are my 10 Big Ideas for 2005. Next week, Ill give you some tips for life.


TECH TALK Letter to a 2005 Baby+T

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