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2050: Future students

Our 2050 series has led us to insights from futurists and academics about the state of education in the near-distant future. We have discussed various topics, such as the impact of artificial intelligence on education, the far-reaching effects of transhumanism, and the status of future universities. We now want to explore what the average university student may look like. Will we be dealing with cyborg freshmen or an exclusive breed of students? We spoke to futurists and academics alike to imagine the future class of 2050.

Let’s meet our panel:

  • Jogaila Vaitekaitis, Assistant Professor at Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Nell Watson, Trend Advisor, AI Philosopher, Advocate, Belfast, UK
  • Linas Petkevicius, Associate Professor at Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Rohit Talwar, Futurist, Virtual Keynote Speaker, and CEO of Fast Future, London, UK
  • Shermon Cruz, Executive Director, Chief Futurist at the Center for Engaged Foresight, Metro Manilla, Philippines.
  • Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, Speaker, and Author, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Mitali Halder, Assistant Professor at Coventry University, Wroclaw, Poland
  • Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalysts, Advisory, Fractional Futurist, London, UK

Cyborg students

During in-depth discussions with our panelists, many predicted that we may see cyborg students in the class of 2050. What is a cyborg, you may ask? A cyborg is a cybernetic organism that has both human and manufactured characteristics. For example, a cyborg maybe someone with artificial parts, and according to ScienceDirect, “a cyborg is any individual who relies extensively on technological devices and artifacts to function.” Maybe we’re already cyborgs. Nonetheless, Professor Jogaila Vaitekaitis, Assistant Professor at Vilnius University, told Cybernews Academy that the rise of cyborg students is possible with the increase in new technologies such as Elon Musk’s neural link. Similarly, Shermon Cru, Executive Director and Chief Futurist at the Center for Engaged Foresight, also foresees “cyborg students in the future.” We may see genetically modified students testing their genetic code to see what they excel at. We could see augmented students created to be incredible athletes, scientists, or mathematicians by altering their genetic makeup, running genetic testing, or selecting their characteristics from birth. Futurist Rohit Talwar suggests that in the future, we will genetically modify our senses to enhance learning outcomes. “The more we understand how our brains work, the more we use chemistry, biology, and nanomedicine to manipulate the brain, helping us learn faster.” To learn as much in an efficient time, we could see technology being used to augment the student experience on a biological level.

The divided class of 2050

Professor Jogaila raised a thought-provoking question regarding society in the next 27 years. It may be a novelty now, but who’s to say that these technologies won’t appear in all aspects of our daily lives in the future? But how will society approach this? Professor Jogaila posits that social unrest is possible between ‘natural’ folk and the technologically enhanced. “We have movies where we see how people discriminate against robots, and the ones who have implants discriminate against those who don’t.” We might see higher levels of discrimination in schools across the world, or we may see segregation within our new society. Futurist Andrew Vorster also predicts technology could increase the division between us as “you’ll have those who have the technology and those who haven’t got the technology.” With the advancements in brain-computer technology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, these technologies can further reinforce this class divide. In the future, we could witness a student uprising where those with technological implants fight those without. Alternatively, there could be disparities between universities, with some being created for genetically modified students and other universities that are ‘traditional.’ One thing’s for sure: society will change, and university students will reflect these changes.

World wide learners

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as there may be opportunities facilitated by tech that bring us together. Rohit Talwar predicts that technology will allow students to actively interact with each other worldwide. “It'll be fascinating to have your class interact with a class from Kenya and meet each other through virtual reality. We will also have group interactions that could bring students together from multiple countries to solve complex industry problems in real-time.” This begs the question of whether we need institutions all together. What if tertiary education becomes one giant melting pot of universities worldwide? We could expect a school without borders that are connected through technology. Interestingly, Dr. Linas Petkevicius, Associate Professor at Vilnius University, believes that AI and other technology could level out the playing field and create more balanced students' educational students. “The goal in the future (which may be reached) is to bring education to everyone, “ and technology might be the way to do that. It may be that we upscale the intelligence of our entire planet through continuous learning and AI teaching. The world might become a full-time student, plugging into lectures, seminars, or courses via their neural devices. “people worldwide within various countries could access additional resources with this new technology,” says Dr. Linas Petkevicius. Students worldwide may be equally equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed, and this may not be limited to the most exclusive institutions.

Ultimate Intelligence

We could see students achieving ultimate intelligence through the use of AI technology. Nell Watson, Trend Advisor, AI Philosopher, and Advocate, told Cybernews Academy that with the use of AI, we might see “radical improvements in decentralized and distributed forms of education, which target each student.” This individualized education could help augment student experiences, creating happier, more intelligent students. Equally, Dr. Linas Petkevicius suggests, "AI agents will be like really clever teachers who aim to maximize the amount of knowledge that you as a student receive.” With artificial intelligence by our side, there’s no challenge that is too big or too intellectually challenging. Andrew Vorster explained that artificial intelligence could become your “constant companion” that acts like a “voice in your head, drip-feeding information.” Andrew Vorster explained that a student could “look at the sky, and instead of asking why the sky is blue, AI will tell you, and this knowledge will be lodged into the wet wear that we call our brains.” With artificial intelligence, we could reach a level of ultimate intelligence where we have all the information we need meshing with our memories and pre-existing knowledge. But will our value diminish with the use of artificial intelligence tools? Or will we become entirely dependent on technology?

Laziness path

Futurists such as Gerd Leonhard don’t believe technology could build a race of super-intelligent students. Instead, this technology may make us lazier than we have ever been before. Imagine this, “you can sit down with your VR glasses or artificial intelligence systems and say, ‘I need to know everything about finding water on Mars.’ This technology lets you learn all the facts in the videos and look at this information in every possible language. Fantastic.” Imagine, this technology could have even more capabilities. “Say you graduate and you’re an American citizen working for a Chinese company or vice versa; you could have an instant translation device, which makes your work 100 times more efficient. On the other hand, the significant danger is that we may become lazy. We may become compliant.” So, how does this impact the student population of 2050? Well, imagine if we plug in and have one provider feeding us information instead of searching for the information ourselves. We may lose our ability to think independently, critically, or creatively, which may strip us of the very characteristics that make us human. Once stripped of our “humanness,” we may entirely depend on technology to function.

End of student independence

Gerd Leonhard explained that these up-and-coming technologies may be problematic as we may“stop being independent thinkers.” What if the new student is simply a robotic drone, fed information it cannot question? Instead of reaching ultimate intelligence, we could see a rise in mind control from governments, feeding their citizens false or biased information. Students may be targeted as they may be perceived as impressionable or easier to control. What if students are the new techno-hybrid soldiers of the future? Picture this: “When you can't get out of bed and think independently about what's next, you must connect to virtuality or the super brain. And that will be the end of human independence.”

Concentration crisis

In the year 2050, we may face a concentration crisis for students across the globe. Social media has seemingly taken over our lives since its rise in the late 90s and has slowly malformed students' minds everywhere. Professor Mitali Halder commented on the concentration crisis and how this will evolve in 2050. “Social media platforms are impacting education as social media evolves. We now have ‘Reels,’ which are short, loud, and colorful content that attract people and keep their brains busy. I’ve noticed that students tend to watch this kind of content habitually. When students attend a lecture, which is long-form, they disengage, and it can become challenging for them to re-engage.” Dr. Linas Petkevicius explained that “social media uses a lot of data science tricks, which engage and make us stay on the social media platforms,” adding to the perpetual cycle of short-form content watching. This short-form content is re-wiring our minds and impacting how we ingest and digest information. University is not short-form. Instead, it’s (at times) a long and arduous journey. So, think about it: if students struggle to concentrate in 2023, what will happen in 2050?

What can we forecast for the future class of 2050? At times, it can appear bleak with the concentration crisis, the end of student independence, and the class divide. There are red flags all around that warn us of the potential dangers that may plague us in the future. Gerd Leonhard made this haunting remark about our relationship with technology. “Many psychologists will tell you humans don't think with the brain; we think with the body. We are holistic creatures, and computers are not. They operate in binaries. So the problem is, we must decide how far we want to become the tool” how far do we want to integrate with the machine? However, there are some positives that we can glean from student life in 2050. We may become super intelligent beings that have a world of information at our fingertips (literally.) Students could become smarter and better at their subjects through genetic engineering and augmentation. We can also foresee better educational experiences and outcomes for students in 2050.