ARE ROBOT TEACHERS INEVITABLE?

Robot copyIn early May 2016, 300 Georgia Tech students discovered that their teacher aide, Jill Watson, was not a real person. In fact, ‘she’ was a robot that had been capably supporting them via online voice recognition software all through the semester. Rather aptly, it was an online course on artificial intelligence. Most of the students were simply amused by this admission. Others were not as happy, given that there had been no disclosure of the non-human nature of their online helper. But it gets you wondering, doesn’t it? Where is the limit on the robot support that could be offered to school students?

Mattel’s latest Hello Barbie is another case in point. This interactive doll can listen to a child’s conversation, and then provide a contextual comment from the 8000 different responses in its memory bank. In just a few years from now, similar devices (that hopefully don’t look like Barbie) could be programmed to provide explicit learning support for each student.

Are there any concerns with these devices? There are many. All conversations are being stored in the Cloud, so there are some ominous privacy questions to be considered here. And at what point do these robots adopt a cyber-ethical stance on various issues? Would we ever want children to develop their values from a non-human entity?

Artificial intelligence has well and truly arrived in our everyday lives. The contentious issues are significant…. but then, so are the benefits. These assistants will release us from many tedious tasks in our personal and professional lives. Data processing, learning analytics and rapid online searching are just some of the advantages of these innovations. But here is one of the most pertinent questions of all: Will robots partly replace adults who work in schools?

Well… this process has already occurred for hundreds of years in other professions. Ever since the Industrial Age, the work of millions of people has been supplanted by machinery. Admittedly, it has not been on a scale that is likely in the pending future. In ‘The Rise Of The Robots’, Martin Ford maintains that around 40% of all employees around the world will see significant restructuring or even loss of their daily work within the next decade.

Does this mean that we will see higher unemployment? Not necessarily. According to futurist Thomas Frey, many all-new occupations will become more commonplace eg crypto-currency bankers, augmented reality architects, driverless machine engineers. For schools, US-based education forecasters KnowledgeWorks conjecture about roles such as competency trackers, data stewards, micro-credential analysts and pop-up reality producers.

The dilemma with all of this astonishing new work? There is a wide gap between many people’s present skills, and the new skills they will need for these advanced roles. A part-result? We will always be learning and updating our professional skills. Andragogy (the art and science of adult learning) will become as important in schools as the child version (ie pedagogy). This andragogy will be continuous, evidence-based and results-driven. As well as full degrees, emphasis will be placed on micro-credentialling in order to support time-poor educators.

Regardless of the efforts we each make, is it still possible that robots will take over our jobs? Well… when it comes to the future, you can never say ‘never’. However, I find it difficult to believe that society will accept everyone being replaced by robots. If someone is not receiving a wage, then they won’t be paying taxes. It’s difficult to see our politicians accepting that state of affairs. Perhaps even more importantly, if no-one is actively working, then what will they do with their time every day?

Here’s one thing we can probably guarantee: The long-term structure of work will change forever. A single full-time one-job-for-life will become a rarity. In any case, most Under-30s shudder at the thought of remaining in one work position for 40 or more years. We may need to keep this in mind as we prepare young people for this future world of work. But what about us right now? For those adults who work with students, and who want to keep their job, what can be done about these changing work patterns? Here are two compelling options.

Point 1. Keep Learning. Education in itself is obviously about helping young people to learn. But it needs to be equally so for the adults who work in the field. The reality? It is hypocritical to be employed in the education profession, and yet not be prepared to learn and develop your self. Thankfully, the vast majority of educators are obsessed about their own learning. In the next ten years, they will need to be. ICT and improved pedagogy are not passing fads; they are here to stay, and will progress rapidly. But is this obsession with technology leading to a loss of our very humanity? Let’s look at Option 2.

2. Generate Empathy. Why focus on empathy? Basically, because robots cannot provide it. Robots do not have soul. They never will. I don’t care what the futurists say about the pending age of spiritual machines. These robots will always be artificial constructs that are developed to mimic human behavior. So what do we need to do as authentic humans? Here’s one obvious answer: Explore and deepen our empathic connection with others. Refine our social capacity and respect for different cultures and beliefs (are you listening, Donald Trump?). Empathy will become the critical 21st century skill. If you want to stay employed in education, look for every way possible to further refine your empathic support for children. They need it; and it help you to do your work more effectively.

A final thought? The application of technology in education is delicately balanced between Choice and Chance. Choice is when we design our preferred futures, then backward map to the present time, and steadily work on creating those futures. Chance is when we abrogate all responsibility for developing what is up ahead, and simply concede to outside forces that inflict our future on us. Can we stop the rise of the artificial intelligence world? No we can’t. Can we choose how to take advantage of this astonishing new world? Yes we can, with learning and empathy. Are you ready to play your part?

Brain Computer Interfaces

BrainJust imagine: Merely by thinking about it, teachers could control what appears on a projector screen in a classroom over 10,000 km away, with their voices then giving further support to the students in that same room.

Sound a little far-fetched? On the contrary, the technology already exists. Brain-Computer Interfaces are now well-advanced, and promise to deliver some astonishing options in learning and life over the next decade.

Brain Computer Interfaces? Sometimes referred to as BCIs, they are technologies that allow your thinking to control and even re-create your physical environment. BCIs will challenge us to seriously rethink how we teach students the complex skill of thinking, and the purposes to which they will apply those skills.

Much of this technology has actually been around for several years, but it’s all about to go mainstream. Here are some examples for you:

  • What if your thinking alone could move a wheelchair? They already do. http://bit.ly/GODmp7
  • Or perhaps you’d like to fly a drone with thought control, and from anywhere on the planet too. Well, you now can. http://bit.ly/YrYryi
  • Perhaps you’re prepared to drive your car with your thoughts alone. A scary thought, given that some people can’t even do it properly in the normal way. http://bbc.in/1qbo16e
  • Gesture-based computing and voice activation systems can adjust what happens on our screens. But what if you could make changes on your computer screen by simply thinking about them? The product already exists. http://www.emotiv.com/epoc.php
  • What if we could even bridge the divide between the physical and virtual worlds eg by drawing with a pen, and reaching inside your computer screen to do so? This TED talk is worth a quick look. http://bit.ly/1tgWI9r
  • By scanning your brain, researchers can determine what you’ve read. http://bit.ly/1aJuWMg
  • In limited ways, scientists can already tap into your memory. In this example, they can reconstruct an image of faces that you have seen. http://cnet.co/1o7Ro31
  • Want to push a few limits here? Within 30 years, we may be able to supercharge the brain for learning, and for many other everyday functions as well. http://2045.com/news/33213.html
  • Or what about the option of even upgrading your brain? This will be a serious option in the lifetime of your students.  http://bit.ly/1sPaqA4

Some further options? The mobile / cell phone is probably the quintessential modern piece of technology, and its refinements in the next decade will reflect these neuro-advances.

The I-Phone 21 may become a form of wearable headware that can transmit some of your thoughts to another I-Phone 21. The I-Phone 25 may even be a surgically implanted neural device that will enable you to do the same thing.

What does this mean for our everyday lives?

In such a world, your thinking capacity will become more vital than ever before. Not only will you need to think critically and creatively, you’ll also need to synch yourself with your meta-tech devices.

TV quiz shows that adulate those with prodigious factual memory will be supplanted by online shows in which the contestants will compete via control of specific devices eg robots or drones.

The thinking of the players will increasingly control computer games. World-wide NeuroGame competitions will be watched by millions of adoring fans. The 2040 Olympic Games may even feature the 1st ever gold medal won solely with one’s thinking.

What can teachers do in this pending Neuro Age?

Intriguingly enough, some core pedagogical concepts will stay in vogue. As much as ever before, students will need to learn how to focus on a specific task. Mindfulness practices will become even more important than ever.

Over the past decade, multi-tasking unfortunately became fashionable with our students. This will thankfully change, because BCIs will require the user to focus very specifically on the single task at hand (or mind).

The concept of old-fashioned examinations that focus on memory retention may become superfluous. If Smart Drugs or brain augmentations are commonplace, then ‘cheating’ will take on a whole new meaning.

What will you need to do in everyday teaching? Here are some practical options:

  • Introduce daily sessions of mindfulness training. Most effective learning experiences are enhanced by a few moments of initial relaxation.
  • Show children how to self-talk. Write up some words such as “This is a great school”, and then ask them to think those words in their head without speaking. They need to silently think the words at normal speaking speed. Then encourage them to use this self-talk when they are thinking through the process for a task.
  • Develop awareness in children that these brain-controlled options will soon exist. Show them the links in this article. Be very upfront about it. Get into ‘futures’ with your class/es. Join the World Future Society. It’s cheap; and they have lots of great resources.
  • With everyday learning, integrate some explicit thinking strategies eg the Thinkers Keys (yes, this is a shameless plug. I wrote them). They will then have the skills for navigating their thinking through this upcoming amazing world.
  • Keep up with neuroscience research. In recent years, two massive projects have accelerated our understanding of the human brain. The US version is called The BRAIN Initiative and will develop even more complex and revolutionary pictures of the brain’s functions. Europe’s Human Brain Project has been exploring the edges of our neuroscience understandings for the past two years.

And what about you?

  • Keep your own brain as active as possible. Some of the key beneficial activities? Physical exercise (yes, it’s probably the most powerful possible support for brain functioning); reading that challenges and stimulates; creative pursuits; all-new learning experiences.
  • Practise stream-of-consciousness brainstorming. Decide upon a question or an issue, and then spend at least 10 mins generating continuous responses. No pauses are allowed. Keep the flow going.
  • Use voice activation systems on your computer or device. Close your eyes, and talk steadily. Later on, open your eyes, and only then read what you have recorded.
  • Learn how to quickly collate the latest research and practice in your specialist field. This is the best time in human history for instantly finding out what you need. Use worthwhile tools that help you to do so.

Are there any limits to this NeuroAge? Probably not. I could conjecture on the most unbelievable possibilities for you; and I may still not even scratch the surface of your scalp. We will all need to accept this pending Age of Uncertainty, in which there will be an exponential rush of advancing technologies such as these BCIs.

Are there some concerns about these neuro devices? Of course there are. All through human history, there have been good and poor consequences for most new discoveries. We will need to ask questions such as: Is the use of these devices ethical and responsible? Will it make the world a better place for all?

One of the greatest benefits? As educators, we love to explore the astonishing capacity of the human mind, and these BCIs will certainly provide some challenging opportunities to do so. What do you think?!

The Future’s Lookin’ Good

Crossroad on HillAt the time of writing this blog, the world was subjected to the horrendous image of a seven-year-old boy holding up a severed enemy head. With very good reason, the condemnation has been universal. And who wouldn’t recoil at the gruesome spectacle, let alone bemoan the future of the child himself?

However, my concern is not just with the unveiling of this image. My concern is that it becomes yet another example that is used by The World Is Horrible crowd to reinforce their downcast stance about the planet today.

Can I please offer another perspective; and one that I believe has significant validity? It’s that the world is an amazing place, and is pretty likely to become even more astonishing up ahead. But there is a caveat to this. It’s going to need lots of people who have an unwavering faith in the majesty and the potential of the planet. People just like you.

This unwavering faith is critical, because we appear to be at some type of crossroads right now. And I’m not sure that we can easily take both roads at once. My plea is that we choose the one that we’d all prefer. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But just like most things, there are endless complexities. So given those complexities, how do we actually create this amazing future?

My 1st response is this: What’s up ahead is not the Brave New World. It’s not the latest iteration of a sci-fi annihilation of the Earth and Mars. It’s not a rewrite of Harry Potter. It’s simply the aggregation of the struggles, the thinking, and the inspiring achievements of all of us. Every single day.

My 2nd response is: The world is a beautiful mess. It always has been; and it always will be. It is an ongoing duality of yin and yang, of life and death, of the dark and the light.  Of course the world’s not perfect. It’s a complex place, and it sometimes appears to have intractable issues. But will those issues hold us back from what we could achieve up ahead? I don’t think so. And you just have to look at our achievements thus far to realise this.

WHAT WE’VE ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED

Here are some examples of what we have accomplished in recent times. In 1900, global life expectancy was 32. Now, it is just over 70. In just 114 years, it has gone from 32 to 70! The infant mortality rate (as measured by the number of babies who died before the age of 1) was approximately 25% in 1900. Now, it is 3.69%. The literacy rate was 42% in 1900. It is now 84%. Most crime rates have dropped in the past 20 years (and given that, can I let you know that you’re a 60 times less chance of being murdered today than in the Middle Ages); we have a 30% improvement in cancer survival rates in just the past 20 years.

Statistics such as these will continue to surge ahead, and especially because the world is about to unleash the ingenuity of billions more people in 2nd and 3rd world countries who previously did not have many opportunities to improve themselves. This may very well become the greatest social justice advancement in human history.

My plea to you is this: Don’t base your beliefs about the world today on outdated information from the last century. It’s an amazing planet out there right now, and that data I just listed is very likely to continue on an upward trajectory.

THE PROGRESS PARADOX

Yet here’s the paradox to all of these improvements. The better that things get, the worse we think they are. It’s actually called the Progress Paradox. The standards of living in most parts (but not all) of the world are the highest they have ever been; and yet large scale surveys will often show that many people believe that it’s all getting worse.

This progress paradox exists, partly because the media sensationalise any negative issue on the planet. Fifty years ago, it sometimes took several days to find out about many major events. Now, we hear about them (and see them in all their gory detail) immediately, and they are often even broadcast on someone’s mobile phone at the scene of the incident. It’s called crowd-sourced journalism.

As a result, too many people view everyday life through a negative lens, and assume the worst about the planet in general. This perspective is fuelled by the daily radio ’shock jocks’, who delight in talking the world down through their own bitter insecurities. The ratio of good to bad issues in everyday life for 7.2 billion people is probably at least 100:1. Yet on the mass media, it seems as if there are 5 bad events to every good event. It’s just not the reality.

Now don’t get me wrong. Some events are catastrophic. The Malaysian Airlines disaster was horrendous; and there will be other difficult times in the future. And the world is hardly perfect in everyday life even now. There are still many wrongs to be righted.

But just keep in mind: On the same day that MH17 was blown up, there were at least four hundred million volunteer hours provided around the world. On that same day, billions of parents around the world loved their kids, and did their best for them. On that same day, schools across the world kept their students safe, and generally learning in productive ways.

PREDICTING THE FUTURE

And the big question that nearly everyone wants to ask: What’s coming up ahead?! Well, there are lots of ways to answer that. One is that we just don’t know with some things, especially with unexpected events like earthquakes, tsunamis, sudden major terrorist events, car accidents, and perhaps even solar storms that could compromise global telecommunication systems.

Another way of looking at the future is that we are going to continually see the most rapid changes in human history. The exponentialities are mind-boggling. We have created more new knowledge in the past three years than existed in all of previous human history; and the pace of fresh discoveries can be overwhelming.

As a result, we will have to embrace what we call Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the New Normal. We will need to adjust rapidly to even more dramatic changes; and to view those changes as an opportunity rather than a threat. People who love learning will revel in this type of future.

What else is up ahead? A recent very well-researched book called Abundance maintains that the world is very likely to achieve significant advances up ahead. We could have clean drinking water for every child on this planet by 2020. We could provide a primary school education for every girl on this planet by 2022…. which, I assure you, would be one of the most significant means of creating an even better world.

PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS

Here’s another option for helping us to predict the future: We can apply the science of Predictive Analytics, which is sometimes referred to as Big Data. Basically, with this approach, everything is a Numbers Game, and we can calculate the percentage probabilities on whether various things will occur.

Here are some examples.  Life insurance companies have already sized you up. By the time they find out what you eat, drink and smoke, how you exercise, and discover any ailments suffered by your parents and siblings, they can usually work out when you’re going to die to within a few years. Throw in a DNA test and they can narrow it down even further.

We can even predict with a 70% certainty what you will be doing on this day in exactly 2 years from now, mainly because we’re creatures of habit. We can predict with an 80% certainty whether you will contract the flu, 8 days before you actually get it. In predictive policing, we can determine the likelihood of some pending crimes with a 90% certainty. Even weather forecasters have an 80% success rate.

And, here’s the most powerful way of all to predict the future. You create it with what you do today. It’s your actions now that lead to whatever tomorrow will bring. The quick conversations with work colleagues; the short and inspiring message that you write on facebook; the charity that you start up in a few days time. Even the thinking you do today can partly determine your mood tomorrow.

I have little time any more for those who claim that our future is pre-determined, and that we have no influence over it. My response is: If we say that, then we lose our ability to shape it. We actually have a huge influence over it, because we’re creating it now. Right here, today.

RATING THE WORLD’S FUTURE

If I asked you to rate the world’s future possibilities from 1 to 10 (with 1 being awful, and 10 being astonishing), what would you say?  Here’s the reality. If 7.2 billion people average a 2 out of 10, then we’re in big trouble. It’s called the Self-fulfilling Prophecy. We’ll be convinced that everything is horrendous, and our actions will unfortunately contribute to that.

Conversely, if we all average a 9.5, then the world is pretty well guaranteed to do amazing things. You see, when we’re confident of what will occur, we can make anything happen. And I mean anything. So what honestly is your rating? Because unless you believe that our future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it happen.

Please be aware: This is more than just the Positive Thinking movement. It’s all very well to think optimistically. What is also required is to take consistent focused action that makes the so-called difference every day, in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

And you know why it’s important to believe all of this?? Because it gives hope to all of the kids in our lives. When they see grown-ups creating a worthwhile future, then it develops their own faith in the world being OK up ahead. And they’re then more likely to make the effort as well.

So. What’s your score out of 10? What’s your degree of faith and belief in the world’s future? And how resilient are you in facing up to what needs to be done every day? Remember, it’s not tomorrow where this needs to be done. It’s today.

Seven Reasons Why Teachers Need To Be Outstanding!

Hot PersonalitiesWe’ve had the Seven Dwarves, the Magnificent Seven, the Seven Intelligences and the Seven Habits. Perhaps you remember hearing about the Seven Heavenly Virtues; or even the Seven Deadly Sins. So while we’re on the Seven theme, let’s have a look at Seven of the Reasons why teachers need to be outstanding.

1. Their students learn more effectively. Yes, it’s pretty obvious, yet it still needs to be listed here. When teachers are outstanding, they get results. And they’re the type of results that really count. Not just academic (which are obviously important), but sociological, and even spiritual.

2. Teachers develop strong foundations for future learning. If children receive a quality education in their 1st 3 years of school, they are much more likely to succeed all through their further education. And, firm ‘n fair guidance in their final years of schooling can accomplish the same results for their future careers. Outstanding teachers provide those strong foundations for a student’s learning and life.

3. The power of a teacher’s words changes lives. We need assured and responsible people in teaching who choose their words with care. Every word that a teacher says can influence a young person for life. For Life! The ripple effect of seemingly innocuous comments can instil hope in young hearts, and change their lives forever. Kids need hope for a good life up ahead, and it can come from the inspiring words they hear each day.

4. Teachers provide exemplary modelling. Young people need to spend time with adults who demonstrate what it means to live an awesome life. Otherwise, they will wonder whether it’s worth even getting to adulthood. Given the amount of time that teachers spend with children, there is no other choice. We need some Hot Personalities in teaching who are vibrant about life.

5. Their own learning determines their quality of teaching. If teachers are helping others to learn, then they need to be obsessive learners themselves. This keeps them at the forefront of their field of expertise, and they can then best support their students with their extensive knowledge and wisdom. Teachers who are great learners are great teachers.

6. Their rapport with students will determine how well those students learn. Teaching is a ‘relationship’ profession.  When students feel that they belong to a supportive community of learners, their brain engages more effectively. These safe classrooms are created by teachers who steadily build up rapport and trust with their classes every day. Outstanding teachers work continuously on developing those relationships with every student, without exception.

7. Because it’s personal for each and every one of us. One day, you might be teaching my child / grandchild / niece / nephew. I want each of them to live an extraordinary life. And if teachers are outstanding, then it gives those young people a better chance to fulfil that destiny. Could they have done it without great teachers? Perhaps. Are they more likely to achieve this amazing life when teachers support them? Absolutely.

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The very future of life on this planet is determined strongly by the collective quality of teachers everywhere. Do whatever you can to support teachers to be outstanding.

Future-proofing

Gypsy fortune-tellers are fascinating. I saw one hard at work when I was about 8 years old. Beautiful to watch. The theatrics, the swirling clothing, the crystal ball, all created a sense of wonder in me.

I’m just as fascinated today with those who again claim they can predict the future. Only this time, some of them are dressed up in a charlatan outfit, they’re plastered all over the social media, and they’re peddling fear and unease about our collective lives up ahead.

And why?

To sell some deceitful program that will allay our fears, or require us to trust their fool-proof system for storing our hard-earned cash. Or perhaps to encourage us to live in a bomb-proof shelter somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Aztecs

Here’s a reality check for you. No-one can accurately predict the future. Oh, we can generalise with a series of trends, and we can determine some probable futures by analysing present patterns of behaviour. We can calculate how many 10-year olds there will be in 5 years from now. Just count how many 5 year-olds we have right now.

But can we accurately predict the share market movements through this year, or whether a major accident will occur in 3 months from now, or whether you will win lots of money in a lottery? No we can’t.

Naturally, most of us would prefer to have some degree of certainty about our future, which is why we keep hoping that the fortune-tellers will be accurate. But they basically won’t be. So here’s the next best option: Future-proof yourself.

And what does that mean? Well…. It means that you adopt a series of strategies and mindsets that will give you the best possible chance of thriving through whatever happens up ahead.

For now, here are some suggestions on future-proofing your life, your family, your work, your school, your workplace:

  1. Focus on what you CAN control, rather than on what you can’t. If you keep thinking about things that you can’t influence, you’re wasting your energy. Do some in-control things like saving some money, or establishing some consistent everyday patterns (such as exercising), or doing some charity work. Then you’re in control of your world.
  2. Fight back on the fear factor. There are some in the media who consistently resort to doomsday scenarios (note the Dec 21 2012 end-of-world scenarios being portrayed right now). Watch how a highly negative news report makes you feel. Then read a positive article about what lies up ahead, and again note your response. Become aware of your responses. It’s the 1st stage in turning your emotions around.
  3. Do some in-depth study. Having strong knowledge gives you greater confidence about what lies up ahead. If you want to know what’s going on, then make the effort to study up on the topic. Go and listen to some respected experts in the field. Find some valid online information. Remember that ignorance is rarely bliss.
  4. Watch the trends. While they’re not foolproof, trends can give some indications on what lies up ahead. If you’re in business today, you may be struggling. Yet, there are some obvious trends taking place. Examples? People want to save, not spend. And technology is having a strong impact on how customers purchase goods.
  5. Let go on certainty. Accept that, to live an inspiring life, you may need to embrace uncertainty. Not Knowing can end up being a welcome part of your life, rather than something to be avoided. So, be an ongoing adventurer who relishes the opportunity to be challenged by unforeseen circumstances.

    And lastly, if you’re involved with kids in any way (as a parent, a teacher, a relative), I beg of you to not scare the heck out of them about the future. I’m not sure why some adults do it. Maybe it’s a power thing, like: “It’s all gonna be awful, but I’ll save you.”

    Oh please. Get over it. If you push too hard with that negative line, they’re hardly going to feel positive about their world up ahead. And even worse, they might not even bother to help create that better world up ahead.

    Look at the last 50 years of world history. There have been so many pending calamities (world starvation; millennium bugs), and yet somehow we get through them intact.

    Inspire kids about the possibilities with their lives, and of the planet in general. And then we’re more likely to see a future that is beneficial for us all, because they’ll help to create it.