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2050: Transhumanism in education

The notion of augmenting human biology to achieve ultimate intelligence, strength, or power is a contraversial topic. But what if we used it in education to achieve the academic accomplishments we so desire, or plug into learning in a way you couldn’t even imagine. So far in this series, we at Cybernews Academy have explored 2050: Artificial Education. Now, we are exploring a new frontier; transhumanism.

  • Rohit Talwar, Futurist, Virtual Keynote Speaker, and CEO of Fast Future, London, UK
  • Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalysts, Advisory, Fractional Futurist, London, UK
  • Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, Speaker, and Author, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Nell Watson, Trend Advisor, AI Philosopher, Advocate, Belfast, UK

What is Transhumanism?

Transhumanism is a philosophical and intellectual movement that advocates for enhancing the human condition through technology. Augmenting our bodies using sophisticated technologies could improve longevity and cognitive ability– but at what cost? Fractional futurist Andrew Vorster explained that there are “ two different ways we can think about transhumanism. One way is all about using tech to augment the human condition, and the other is discussing how we augment ourselves biologically.” This could be as significant as eradicating a disease or editing a disorder. In this context, transhumanism is more about augmenting the human condition to reach ultimate intelligence, strength, and power beyond our natural capabilities. How is this relevant to education, you may ask? Well, imagine altering your physical or cognitive makeup to get into the university of your choice or using technology to plug into learning. Suppose you want to enter the futuristic world and watch a lecture live through your eyes without leaving your bed. The possibilities are endless with the emergence of transhumanism, a concept that may soon be realized in just a few decades.

Future fusion

Futurists like Andrew Vorster and Rohit Talwar predict that this colossal fusion between biology and technology may alter how we think, process information, and learn. Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future, referenced one group within the transhumanist movement that may help shed light on our future. “The cult of Ray Kurzweil was one singularity group in transhumanism that believed by 2043 (or maybe earlier) we would have connected our brains to the internet and each other. We may be able to share our dreams and thoughts and download information when needed, all through brain implants. We may have an exo-cortex that stores a lot of information parallel to our brains.” This might affect education by having augmented and modified students who have, as Rohit Talwar says, “advanced processes that allow them to think faster and do more” beyond their current biological constraints. We may be able to plug into a lecture or attend a seminar without leaving the comfort of our rooms. We may no longer need physical spaces as learning could happen in our heads, projected through our eyes in a virtual environment that simulates real-life events.

Personalized learning experiences

Transhumanism could open opportunities for unique learning experiences powered by artificial intelligence systems, DNA, and biometrics. These technologies could cater to the ever-evolving needs of the new student by tailoring lesson plans, resources, and learning approaches to optimize learning outcomes. Nell Watson predicts that “AI will be a great mentor, something that can provide qualitative advice here and there.” We already see this rise with OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Anthropic’s Claude. But imagine if these agents were directly implanted into your head or ears. Imagine having a personalized mentor who could give you all the information you need at your fingertips. Specialists may use our DNA and augment parts of ourselves to personalize our learning experience by tailoring plans to our biological makeup. Certain technologies may demonstrate how you work best, what learning approaches best suit your cognitive capabilities, and what environments you function well in by employing AI algorithms that measure your biological data.

New skills unlocked

In our previous article, ‘2050: Artificial Education,’ we at Cybernews Academy discussed the ‘new degree’ as a badge of honor instead of a traditional qualification. We also discussed the need for empathy qualifications to validate our human skills as we become more interconnected with the machine. Rohit Talwar believes that due to this augmentation, we will create new life forms at a higher level, and new roles must be learned in society. “We will need to learn what our relationship with the machine is. There will be new rules in society, structure, and codes of behavior that we will need to learn as transhumanism evolves.” With new technology comes new regulations, and we predict these will restrict certain behaviors in academic spaces. As we have seen in previous years, universities have opposed using artificial intelligence and large language models in their classrooms. So, why would this be any different? Many universities may resist technology that opposes traditional learning approaches. So, our inbuilt AI systems may be made redundant in higher education institutes. But what if the common campuses evolve into smart campuses where students can connect their intercerebral devices to libraries, laboratories, and online learning platforms? This could revolutionize how we learn by immersing ourselves in all facets of our universities and becoming intertwined with higher education. We would never miss a lecture, event, or seminar if we were constantly connected to our institutions.

What makes us human

Futurists like Gerd Leonhard are skeptical about transhumanism and the far-reaching effects these modifications could have on society. “At a certain point, we have to decide what makes us human, what keeps us human, and what keeps us human is the limitation. We can't remember every piece of information, and why would we want to? Why do we need to remember all of these facts? We have machines for that. I can draw from the facts out there. I can use my imagination. Otherwise, we turn into machines. So, the answer is, if you want to be like a machine, you know, a superhuman God-like machine, you can probably engage with transhumanist modifications in the future. Is it a good idea? I doubt it.” During our interview, Gerd Leonhard mentioned an old Malavi saying: “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand.” He attributes this to the idea of direct knowledge transference through technology to our brains as wisdomless intellect. “Learning through immersion, personalization, and context is how people learn best,” Gerd says. But what if computer-brain interfaces are the new immersive technology that can help people learn by immersing them in realistic scenarios like historical battlefields or the Amazon rainforest? Through this technology, we could be transported to inaccessible places without leaving our rooms.

Integration of Bioengineering for wellbeing

With the newest feats in biometric technology, we can measure concentration levels, mood, and a person's overall state. We have seen in some regions of the world testing this technology on their youngest students but what if this was brought into education for the rest of the world? This technology may improve the well-being of students and lecturers like by monitoring various physiological attributes that tell us how that person is feeling. This could make it easier for students to get help with feelings of loneliness and homesickness and could help detect potential mental health problems that arise due to the transition. Bioengineering, the process of engineering principles that improve disease prevention, could remove the homesickness bug from students and help their transition from home life to university life seamless. Alternatively, brain-computer interfaces could help detect these feelings and alert well-being or student services about student risk. This could save lives and improve student success by getting them the help they need at university.

Remember, if you ever feel this way today, don’t wait around for the development of brain-computer interfaces. Tell someone how you feel, as someone is always willing to listen. You’re not alone.

Continuous learners

Brain-computer interfaces and other technologies could promote the continuous development of student skills long after they leave university. As Andrew Vorster and Rohit Talwar suggested, our qualifications may act as badges showing us what degree of university we have been through, our skills, and where we went to university. Andrew Vorster mentioned that we may be lifelong members of a certain university. With brain-computer interfaces, we may have access to all that university’s information, research, and data for the rest of our lives. Brain-computer interfaces could completely revolutionize the alumni network by having all student data in one place and accessible via our minds. Networking would never be the same again. Through AI, virtual reality, and brain-computer interfaces, we can connect with people like never before by directly interacting with the interconnected network of continuous learners easily accessible through our heads.

Methods and madness

Experts like Andrew Vorster believe that “we may use cochlear implants” to receive data and information. “Then the next step is the neural link,” implanted into a brain region. Nell Watson predict that DNA and biometric data could be used to genetically screen “to test a person's aptitude for a certain subject.” Rohit Talwar posits that in the future, we may develop skills such as a “cat’s sense of smell or a bat's sense of hearing” that could alter how we learn and force us to engage in continuous learning. Equally, Rohit Talwar posits that “AI might create new species. There'll be hybrids, cyborgs, part human, part machine.” However, there are some caveats when melding computers and humans, as this could lead to the total loss of our data and could welcome more harmful hacking activity. “Biometrics and other technologies come with their own set of issues. If we use our face, fingerprints, DNA, or the veins in our eyeballs to identify ourselves, we can’t change these things. What if someone gains access to these attributes or clones this biometric information? You can’t change your genetic makeup to secure your accounts. We have seen many university data breaches due to poor cybersecurity. Imagine if malicious agents hacked into your brain-computer interfaces via your university portal and hacked into your head, stealing all your precious and personal data.

With the emergence of artificial intelligence, we expect to see profound changes in education by merging technology and human biology. The transhumanist movement holds potential as it will offer a range of personalized, immersive, and continuous education experiences for future students. However, as we navigate this synergetic relationship between biology and tech, we must consider the societal and ethical implications that shadow this new technology. We should preserve our human essence amidst these technological enhancements, which are critical in distinguishing humans from machines. We must balance the promise of augmented capabilities while maintaining the attributes that make us fundamentally human. This will be pivotal in steering our journey towards the future of education.