Posted tagged ‘futurology’

Fearing the future

November 14, 2017

If like me you enjoy science fiction or drama based in the future, you will of course be well used to the assumption that it’s all going to be terrible. The future is dystopian, flesh-eating zombies are everywhere, authoritarian régimes play with people’s lives, machines have perfected AI and have become totally malevolent, the UK leaves the EU. Trust me, if this is it you really don’t want to experience anything much beyond tomorrow lunchtime.

It’s all good fun of course, and none of those things may actually happen. And yet our futurology tells us much about who we are right now, and what we fear. Orwell’s 1984 was not really prediction or even a warning: it was an assessment of the world from the perspective of 1948.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many people were enthralled by visions of the future presented by the cartoonist Arthur Radebaugh, who in a series of images presented his idea of a world of the future which, interestingly, was quite prescient. A good few of his predictions have come true or may come true before long. Other would-be prophets may not always have been quite so good at telling the future. But the interesting thing is that most of the predictions, good or bad, have always been about how far technology will advance.

And in the universities, are we ready for the future, or do we fear it? The website fastcompany.com recently made what it described as ‘5 bold predictions for the future of higher education’. The common element in these predictions is the idea that we will continue to develop what we are developing now, but at a faster pace. Not one of these predictions is particularly ‘bold’.

So for those of us working on strategies for a future we don’t yet know for sure, what approach should we take? Should we apply a popular futurology approach and assume it’s going to be a dystopia for higher education, as much as for everyone else? Or should we just assume that it’s all going to be super-charged educational technology? Or is something more interesting than all that waiting for us? And how can we tell?

Of course education will adopt new technology, but that isn’t really the point of interest. The fascination a couple of years ago with MOOCs demonstrated a poverty of understanding of education. Education can be enhanced by method, but it isn’t about method. Rather it is about our understanding of knowledge, its uses and its values. This is the debate about the future that we need to have. Whether  the professor in a 2030 classroom is a robot hovering on a magnetic disc may be a fun topic of conversation but is totally irrelevant to the debate.

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Foresight – what will we need in 2028?

September 9, 2008

According to some of those who enjoy trying to interpret the writings of Michel de Nostredame (better known by the Latin name of Nostradamus), the year 2028 could be significant for all sorts of reasons. Some say he predicted that the Third World War will begin (or end) that year, others that he expected the second coming of Jesus then, and others again that the world will end on that date. In fact, while many of those trying to interpret his work come up with very different predictions, the year 2028 appears in many of them as a critical date.

Well, it is a critical date for DCU, because for the past year or so we have been conducting a ‘Foresight’ exercise which is designed to suggest some possible scenarios for the world in 2028 which we might need to take account of in our strategic planning. We consulted a number of experts and ran a working group in which we involved some key people, both from inside DCU and from elsewhere. In the event the group concluded that there were several possible ways in which the world could develop by 2028 – in terms of politics and geo-political trends, in terms of technological progress and innovation, in terms of the environment, in terms of social trends, and so forth. We will be publishing the outcomes from this in November.

Of course none of us can see into the future. If we had asked a similar selection of people in 1988 to predict what the world would look like today, many of them would have got it quite wrong. But for all that, some of the decisions taken in DCU around that time relating to research and teaching priorities turned out to be well judged, and as a result DCU was able to make a very substantial contribution to Irish society over the past decade or so. We hope to be able to do that again in the years to 2028.

However, if you are reading this blog and have some views as to what 2028 might look like, and what the main concerns will be with which universities may be able to help, I would be very interested in hearing them. When we publish the outcomes of this exercise, I shall summarise them in this blog and link to the overall document, so you will be able to compare your predictions with what we came up with.

I don’t believe that the DCU group made much use of Nostradamus, however.