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2050: Artificial education

The future is upon us. Well, not exactly. But we may be seeing a rise in technologies, particularly an increase in the use of artificial intelligence. This technology is only the first instance that we can see of futuristic systems being used to augment the human experience in work and our academic lives. But what will the future look like in 2050? We at Cybernews Academy have spoken with seven experts to discuss the future of academia in the coming years. Throughout this series, we are searching for answers to our predictions surrounding education in the year 2050. First, we will look into artificial intelligence and discern what role this intelligent tech will play in academia.

Meet our panel:

  • Bronwyn Williams, Futurist, Trend Analyst, Economist, Consultant, and Global Keynote Speaker, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Nell Watson, Trend Advisor, AI Philosopher, Advocate, Belfast, UK.
  • Shermon Cruz, Executive Director, Chief Futurist at the Center for Engaged Foresight and the UNESCO Chairholder, Anticipatory Governance and Regenerative Cities at Northwestern University, Metro Manilla, Philippines.
  • Professor Mitali Halder, Assistant Lecturer at Coventry University, Wroclaw, Poland.
  • Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalysts, Advisory, Fractional Futurist, London, UK.
  • Rohit Talwar, Futurist, Virtual Keynote Speaker, and CEO of Fast Future, London, UK.
  • Dr. Linas Petkevicius, Associate Professor at Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania.

The future is now

We have seen the rise and fall of new technologies that have swept us up and spit us out over time. But now, we are feeling something new in the air. AI and intelligent agents like OpenAI’s ChatGPT feel like something from a science fiction movie. There are many things that Sci-fi movies have predicted: automaton assistants that can care for you emotionally but rip apart anyone threatening your well-being (M3GAN). Sci-fi has thrust humanoid robots that gain sentience upon us, making us question our human abilities (Ex-Machina). Or the advent of artificial intelligence and the notion that AI systems will take human form and challenge the capabilities of humans (Blade Runner). Although this isn’t our reality, we can draw parallels between what we see in the movies and readily available technology. The AI arms race between major countries and within industries worldwide has only accelerated the rate at which artificial intelligence will evolve. These technological breakthroughs raise essential questions: “How far away is the future?” and “Are we ready for what the future holds?”

Perhaps the future isn’t as far away as we thought.

The past

What we can acknowledge about education is the lack of evolution it has taken in the past. Nell Watson, Trend Advisor and AI Philosopher, said, “Very little has changed in education in the last 200 years. The blackboard became the whiteboard, and the whiteboard became the smartboard. Education is still 30 individuals sat in seats with someone in front of them delivering the knowledge.” Similarly, Linas Petkevicius, Associate Professor at Vilnius University, mentioned that from an educational perspective, “there has been little to no change within education in the past 500 years.” Linas told us that topics within subjects like classic mathematics have not changed for 400 years. “These classical subjects demand a classical approach to teaching, where one teacher leads the material.

Despite this apparent stagnation, we now see a different teaching and learning approach. “In recent years, we can observe a slight change as we used to use older forms of knowledge collection like books and journals. Now, as Innovation Catalysts, Advisory, and Fractional Futurist Andrew Vorster states, “the way we access information has changed from books to iPads” and from iPads to new forms of technology like generative AI. It appears that we can map the change in education, although fractional, shows a promising, vibrant, immersive, and interactive future for education.

Museums of the future

Classrooms will be the future museums, says Shermon Cruz, the Executive Director and Chief Futurist at the Center of Engaged Foresight. We will no longer sit in classrooms surrounded by peers, breathing the same air in a physical classroom space. Instead, we may be lying in our beds or futuristic pods, plugged into a headset that delivers a live lecture. Traditional classrooms will be archives of knowledge shrouded in dust and debris from pedagogy’s past. Mitali Halder, Assistant Lecturer at Coventry University, Wroclaw, believes our classrooms will become AI-enabled. “Students may not need to bring physical devices. Instead, the room will be more interactive, like a holographic environment that makes the life of the student and teacher easier.” Instead of being fixed to a physical environment, Andrew Vorster believes that with AI technologies, the cloud, and blockchain, we may be able to work remotely and at our own pace. “We may achieve the ability to work and learn at your own pace when you want to, where you want to, according to your desire, to achieve a level of competencies” without leaving the comfort of our incubation pods.

Human not found

One fear surrounding artificial intelligence within education is that we no longer have students because we will no longer need humans. Nell Watson posits that “AI systems could match or even eclipse human capabilities in every practical respect.” Which doesn’t bode well for the human race. Equally, Futurist Bronwyn Williams highlights these intrinsic fears surrounding AI as they "tap deeply into us because they tap into the narratives and the stories of things we fear. We've heard of very ancient takes that warned of Gollums, these creatures that could run autonomously and become our offspring." What is cutting is not the idea that artificial intelligence could take over. It’s the notion that we must redefine what things mean in our society. Change is something we all fear to an extent. So, changing how education is run trickles into all facets of society. Bronwyn states, “There needs to be more of a point to layering artificial intelligence into human schooling because if machines can do tasks faster and better than us, should we even be teaching people how to do these tasks.” So, if artificial intelligence can do all the tasks we can and better, we don’t need humans. Wrong. We need these brilliant, emotional creatures to use their critical thinking skills and continue developing these tools that optimize our world. Bronwyn said there really is “no point in learning how to perform complicated calculator-based calculations when calculators exist unless you have a very niche career in fundamental mathematics.” So, we must redefine what tasks are essential and understand that technology can be by our side as a tool– AI is our friend, not our enemy.

Plugged in

No longer will you have to search for information via the web. You can plug in via a headset or earpiece that connects directly to your brain, and all the information is drip-fed directly to your frontal lobe. Anything is possible if you just imagine it, one thought, and you have all the information you could need. With this new prediction, education will no longer be linear road maps. Instead, they will become personalized classes catered to your individual needs. Academics such as Linas Petkevicius believe that this personalized way of learning will balance out disparities in education. “We might replace some material with chatbots or some other interactive material that might serve as a temporal solution,” Linas states. Equally, artificial intelligence could revolutionize learning by creating a tailored student experience. Imagine a personalized solution that feeds off of your DNA or biometric data to determine what pace, level, and degree you should undertake. It’s no secret that artificial intelligence will work to make our lives easier. Shermon Cruz highlights the positive aspects of AI, stating, “Generative AI is something that can be explored and used to make the way we learn easier.” Futurist and CEO of Fast Future Rohit Talwar predicts that “AI may directly feed you video content or animation and allow you to consume the same content in a way that works for you.” Prepare to plug yourself into the future of education.

What makes us human

The new degree may be upon us, focusing on the aspects that make us human. Humans may take on a significant role in the future of education by teaching us the fundamentals of philosophy, humanity, and ethics. “We must teach people different things that add value to an automated world. As things become more automated physically and intellectually, we must teach people how to debate, persuade, and manipulate. We must teach skills of compassion and care, which instills this ongoing desire to inspire people. Whole curriculums will need to change,” Bronwyn exclaimed. Perhaps human teachers will be required to teach skills we may forget or struggle with in the digital age. We may need coaches who give lectures on empathy, critical thinking, or therapies to help us regain concentration. Shermon Cruz believes that “artificial intelligence will change education as we know it. It will cause many things to collapse, from how universities and educational systems are structured to how pedagogy is perceived. It will radically change how we define competencies and may even devalue diplomas.”We may no longer need traditional diplomas, but we need badges that represent our skills and accomplishments and represent us on a deeper, more humane level. As technology can do all the work for us, what matters is our empathy, compassion, and emotionality. We may need discerning factors that differentiate us from technology. Instead of competing with technology, we will come to a point where we need a new degree that sets us apart from the machine.

The new degree

This new degree will come in machine operation degrees or other skill-related certifications. Fine arts, literature, and history degrees will be obsolete with generative AI regurgitating literature, art, and historical facts. We will need mechanics, engineers, programmers, and individuals operating the machinery that completes the tasks we once did in the past. Experts like Andrew Vorster believe we will be awarded badges upon completing a training course or “degree” to show our competencies and skills. “You will be awarded a badge of members' guild, demonstrating that you have completed an accelerated course at a certain university.” University rankings will still be relevant, and the esteem in which your university is held will still matter. However, the way you navigate your “degree” and how long it will take will differ. You will simply need something to validate your skills to undertake “the job.” Although jobs may not be what they are now in 27 years, you will likely still need to make money to provide for yourself and others. However, your job might be as an empathy coach, an AI administrator, or an AI mechanic. Indeed, you may still need degrees or badges to validate your skills. However, these degrees will look drastically different, and how you complete them will change radically.

Much of education will change in 27 years. Although we cannot predict what will happen between this time, artificial intelligence and other technologies will play a vital role in navigating the academic world. Our experts have crafted an eccentric image of what education will look like in 2050 and whether artificial intelligence will play a role in how we learn. In the future, we can predict that artificial intelligence will force us to re-evaluate our teaching and learning methods. We will need better resources, and perhaps we won’t need teachers if we have our own personalized academic mentors on our shoulders. However, what stands is that we still need to refine the skills that make us human. The ability to debate, converse, empathize, and relate to one another will still be needed in the future– we will flex our inherently human attributes and leave the machines to do the work.