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2050: Future universities


The Cybernews Academy 2050 series has explored artificial education and transhumanism in education in the year 2050. We have investigated the dynamics within tertiary education, whether we will have institutions, and whether universities will look the same as they ever have. We want to explore this idea further and examine the brick-and-mortar buildings used to house intellect, knowledge, and cerebral development for millennia. Will these institutions stand the test of time, or will they remain vacant buildings in the age of artificial intelligence and the development of the digital realm?

Let’s discuss the future of universities with our panel:

  • 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 and the UNESCO Chairholder, Anticipatory Governance and Regenerative Cities at Northwestern University, Metro Manilla, Philippines
  • Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, Speaker, and Author, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Dr. Linas Petkevicius, Associate Professor at Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Nell Watson, Trend Advisor, AI Philosopher, Advocate, Belfast, UK
  • Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalysts, Advisory, Fractional Futurist, London, UK
  • Professor Mitali Halder, Assistant Lecturer at Coventry University, Wroclaw, Poland

Multifaceted facilities

In the future, universities may be used as social centers for different societal purposes– that’s what Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future, thinks. “Universities are going to be much more integrative. I think it’s going to be very experimental.” As Shermon Cruz mentioned in our previous article, “Universities will be the museums of the future,” uninhabited, preserved structures that will remain untouched, we perhaps run the risk of wasting facilities. Rohit Talwar believes that out of fear of wasting these facilities, these institutions, buildings, and structures will be converted into night schools, test kitchens, and even magistrates courts. “These facilities are being designed to do whatever people want them to, so I think we can start to come up with very different and smarter uses for them.” In 2050, we may have academic hubs that have various functions. Imagine we have one interconnected place using IoT technologies that allow us to access all of our daily areas of interest in one place. Universities may become the center of all social matters, including finances, public service, law, and much more.

Unfit for the future

Futurist Gerd Leonhard says, “The education that we have today is ultimately unfit for the future,” meaning that higher education institutions lack the means to keep up with the changing times. Gerd Leonhard continued, “Education has to change dramatically because we're teaching our kids to remember things for later and essentially downloading information. And then later, when you get to work, you can pull out the information and use it. But that's not how the real world works anymore.” Essentially, education does not reflect the real-world challenges we face in today’s society. Professor Linas Petkevicius of Vilnius University and trend advisor Nell Watson expressed that education hasn’t changed in over 500 years. “Fundamentally, very little has changed; the blackboard is now a whiteboard, and learning is just 30 individuals in their seats with one person in front of them trying to teach them things.” What do we tend to do with things that are unfit for the future and don’t look to be adapting to change? We throw them out. It’s possible that universities could be eradicated forever, and we could plug into learning remotely. What’s the need for physical education when we can log into our classrooms via brain-computer interfaces? Artificial intelligence is changing how we do things, and it will undoubtedly impact where we learn. With remote learning available with minimal effort, more students will attend lectures and more learning will be done. What’s the harm in that?

Downloading…

In the year 2050 (or earlier), students can download information directly from their lecturer's brains. We could have a new era of knowledge sharing by simply thinking of the information, thoughts, or ideas you want to share and the person you want to share it with, and that's it. It's shared. Futurist Andrew Vorster explained that brain-computer interfaces will play a role in how we learn and interact with traditional teaching methods, as many of us may have cochlear implants or neural links that can connect to the internet or another user and download information in seconds. Using technology in an educational setting is not futuristic; it is happening now and will continue to revolutionize how we learn. Andrew Vorster demonstrated the power of online, remote learning through a case study he had experience with. "I interviewed an eight-year-old boy who could speak four languages fluently and had been assessed to be at the competency level of a 16-year-old, and all of his learning was self-taught, online, through an iPad." Demonstrating how essential technology will be in changing the future of education.

Control through biometric technology

Universities and schools may look very different as educational institutions may start using biometric technology to track mood and physiological changes. Andrew Vorster suggests that “mood detection is already very easy when detecting things like heart rate and skin temperature flushes.” We have already seen this kind of technology used in schools in East Asia. Still, if brought to the West, we could see personalized learning initiatives and perhaps more invasive learning approaches. Nell Watson touches on the invasive nature of this technology and acknowledges its disconcerting nature. “It’s rather an invasion of privacy, and it doesn’t necessarily respect people’s human dignity, not only these wearable technologies but technology with cameras that could detect your heart rate, mood, and hormonal profiles.” This could be seen as a way to control and manipulate students if this technology is brought to the mainstream.

Interactive environments

If we still attend university in physical spaces, these spaces will be technologically advanced, interactive environments. Assistant Professor of Coventry University Wroclaw Mitali Halder spoke on this: “With the way IoT is improving, I feel that the classroom will be more AI-enabled with more interfaces, students may not need to bring their own devices, but the room itself may be interactive.” Furthermore, Mitali Halder believes that classrooms may adopt holographic technology that improves educational experiences for the better. “I feel like we will have interactive, holographic screens which will make the life of the teacher and student easy.” However, Mitali Halder also believes that how we approach teaching and learning will remain the same. “The teacher-student dynamic will stay the same, as a teacher will always be presenting during lessons. However, these technologies will help streamline the learning process.” Rohit Talwar also predicts that we will have interactive spaces serving multiple purposes. “We could see schools transform into interactive lab areas where students make different things and do things in dedicated spaces.”

Diversity and inclusion

Brain-computer interfaces, AI-powered devices, and other pieces of technology could cause massive disparities among students. Andrew Vorster believes that technology may increase the divide between students as “you’ll have students that will have this technology and others who have not.” the question of who is controlling this technology will also come down to power, which could make educational institutes a more competitive and tumultuous place. On the other hand, Dr. Linas Petkevicius believes that AI will help educational institutes overcome disparities by equalling the academic playing field. However, AI may not be as unifying as we expect, as countries with more technology and better economic standing will benefit more than those without free internet access. Mitali Halder believes that the more access we have to technology, the wider the educational gap, as some generative AI platforms produce hallucinations and biases. This could lead to divided school systems that house overly competitive students who boast their brain-computer interfaces in front of those unable to access this technology.

Assessment and testing

With the increased use of AI in academic spaces, assessments and testing may change in 2050. Teachers may not be grading our work. Instead, chatbots and artificial intelligence systems may provide practical, unbiased student feedback. These systems may also assess whether a student's work is human-generated (which we have seen in the past few years). Assessments may be better handled, and students can receive personalized feedback on their tests and essays, positively affecting academic outcomes. AI could also be used to monitor students while they are being tested. Instead of having physical invigilators, we could see AI-powered robots to check that students aren’t cheating on their tests.

Competing with the machine

Higher education institutes may change their curriculums with learning focused on empathy, emotional intelligence, and other competencies that only humans have. Gerd Leonhard states, “Education will change a lot in that we have to stop competing with what machines do, which is routine commodity work, and all of these things will allow us essentially to outsource the donkey work. You could say you know that the routine.” We may outsource our work to machines that can form actions quickly and effectively. Hence, we must leverage our natural talents and address real-world issues like poverty, famine, and human rights issues. Futurist Brownyn Williams calls out species “compassionate” and “emotionally intelligent,” suggesting we should leverage these skills to solve real-world problems. We often tend to confuse the idea of tasks with our value. Our value doesn’t diminish due to the technological advancements of the day, says Brownyn. “The fundamental mistake people make is that we don’t need to compete with the machine.” Through this, Bronwyn states that machines may take over the menial tasks we have completed for millennia. However, we will always need people to create these machines. What does this mean for higher educational institutions? Technology may streamline the learning process and help us get to the bottom of real-world problems. We may learn more about the world and how we can solve real issues and use our resources more efficiently in the future. Educational institutions will become emotional hubs that provide aid to others and will help us develop real-world problem-solving skills.

The future of education, specifically educational institutions, is shrouded in mystery. As we have acknowledged, education has mostly stayed the same for hundreds of years as the school system has more or less remained the same. However, in the year 2050, we could see some incredible shifts in how we use these buildings, their purpose, and how this change will alter teaching and learning. Our universities may become tech hubs that function as multifaceted facilities that become the center of our society. On the contrary, these institutions could be eradicated entirely as we plug into learning without needing to leave our houses. We could be confronted with hostile educational environments that contain divided classrooms filled with students with the newest technology and those without. So, you may ask, "Where will universities be in the next 27 years?"

This is entirely unknown; only time will tell.