In the film trilogy of The Matrix, knowledge was downloaded straight from the files the Zion people had obtained, via a hefty and creepy jack plug and somehow into the brain. “I know Kung Fu,” said Neo, a few seconds after he had not the faintest clue about it. Whilst the methods and scenarios in The Matrix are as heavily stylised and wide of the mark as Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine concepts were from working heaver-than-air craft, they nevertheless represent what for all intents and purposes could be a viable general idea for the fast assimilation of information into the brain: that obtained by careful union of (for example but not limiting this to) genetic engineering and preparation, nanobots and Big Data.
With the fast development of Big Data, genetic and nanobot technologies, ongoing arguments about the fitness of an education system for purpose, both from educational value and equality standpoints, and from safety concerns, it is not difficult to imagine how modern technologies could converge at the nexus of these to provide the answer. Currently every child who goes through a modern education is expected to endure several hours per day, five days per week sat in classrooms, listening to an adult drone on to them and twenty-nine other bored kids about things that half become needless trivia and half become useful, but in an order one can seldom predict as to which will be which at the ages of five to eleven years. Yes, they have play time, yes they have lunch, yes they have P.E. (not all children consider that a plus). They are all herded together and held in an institution to gradually absorb some kind of useful information, from the basics of reading and writing up to the level of scientific theorisation methods and deriving complex equations, then using English Literature and History knowledge to write essays about how it all came to be, for example.
BULLSHIT BAFFLES BRAINS
And so, in some form or another, it has been ever since the time of Leonardo when people first realised an education might be more important than another labourer on the struggling farmstead or a little later, another shovel hand in the navvie camp for the new canal. But the current education system, like those who contributed to its inception, is ultimately driven by the paradigm of having a career. Of money and going to work somewhere for someone to maybe one day be good enough at the repetitive tasks to be the someone everyone works for. The cogs of industry kept turning apace and no-one questioned it. Companies and countries, economies and shares rose and fell like the breathing of a sleeping giant. And so went the way of the world so far. A great enemy of mine once said “Bullshit baffles brains”. He was right. [Bullshit jobs] are that very concept constructed into a long term people trap.
Likewise, the ambitions and aspirations of those able to see past the initial edifice of the system have been shaped by this very paradigm: they see things in terms of money, of economy and of how they can make themselves work in terms of that. All well and good whilst such a system can still exist.
But what if some of the system starts to use a little imagination? What if you get so many disruptive technologies appearing that the career aspirations for which our children are being prepared are regularly rendered irrelevant before they have had the chance to complete training and education for them? Suddenly, nobody can tell you what you will do when you leave school, often least of all yourself. This leaves a distinct void in the consciousness previously occupied by the reassuring presence of a career to follow. This leaves room, space in which ideas can form and the imagination can take hold. The giant awakes.
And the death throes of an established systemic nightmare masquerading as a pleasant dream, are to recoil in horror at such concepts and renounce them as heathen (see the Music and Film Industries' response to the ability to, um, share, for example), for they represent a direct threat to it; no longer shackled by the motions of a career to develop into, a whole generation of free thinkers come out of the woodwork and [the emperor is found to have no clothes]. Amid all this, the schools no longer have a clue what they are doing. Suddenly their curricula count for squat, their statistics and grades become so much practise data and scrap paper. Yes, basic skills are still a must, but the career paths beyond are no longer there to follow, replaced by a butt of dust from the shifting sands of development on which they had been resting.
It is this paradigmic collapse which, brought about by the wholesale arrival of disruptive technologies, now requires that a new approach is taken to deal with its effects. Rather than setting children on the road to specific careers and spending so much time on something that might no longer be there to do by the time they come out of education, rather than use uniform institutionalised teaching with strict yeses and noes so anathema to the world outside the school walls, the education sector, like all others, needs to embrace the very technologies disrupting it. This does not mean that by installing IT suites and interactive whiteboards and handing out tablet PCs packed with funducational software and games, all will be well. That does not deal with the core issue, rather it just paints a technological lacquer on the sinking ship. As luck would have it, the very pace of technological advancement proving so difficult for our educational system to keep up with also brings with it something which simultaneously will be its utter downfall and complete salvation.
“THESE ARE LITTLE CHILDREN, THE FUTURE'S IN THEIR HANDS” - ORCHESTRAL MANEOUVRES IN THE DARK – 'GENETIC ENGINEERING'
Genetic engineering will theoretically allow the permanent installation into the DNA for future generations to inherit, of things that have long since been made default in computer operating systems. The ability to read and write, to do maths, to have a large vocabulary and understanding of meanings and equations, all of this could basically be installed by default in the brain's neural pathways by way of DNA encoding. Compare the learned adult brain with the child brain and adjust. But no learned adult of today should be used as a singular template. Not only would this be grossly arrogant and dangerous, but it would also miss the point. We, as a societal generation, have been brought up at the beginning of this shift. We have some free thinking, but the majority of us haven't a clue what to do with it. We should put it to work ensuring our children and the future of the world have freedom in all areas. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of location, freedom of form. There are many more freedoms like these. To ensure they are encouraged, enshrined, built upon and made the most of, we must do away with all of the types of systems and practises that are holding the world back from such freedoms. Old educational methods are one such category. By freeing up years of childhood by making the more basic information on how to communicate with the world second-nature, we can allow schools to become a little more like universities (minus the alcohol) and encourage critical thinking, imagination and sharing of ideas.
To meet with this in a wider context, all communities should strive to work with one another in collaborative voluntary contributionism. The examples of Incredible Edible and of hackerspaces the world over, show just what local communities freeing their minds of established thought patterns can do for themselves. And it's but a drop in the ocean compared to how things could be.
“HOLIDAYS IN EDEN, PARADISE IS FOUND, SEE NO, HEAR NO, SPEAK NO EVIL, TELL NO TRUTH, TELL NO TRUTH AT ALL!” - MARILLION – 'HOLIDAYS IN EDEN'
Not only should critical thinking and intelligent debate be encouraged across the board, but the ability to acquire more library information on a subject should be made easier, with the ability to check its source always foremost in debate. The use of nanotechnologies and nanobots will make ensuring the brain assimilates information smoothly by translating it from computer formats a cinch, though here lie risks well worth debating. The connection of this kind of interface to Big Data too could be more powerful on a planetary scale in terms of improved perceptive ability than we can currently imagine, if done right. But said Big Data is collected by old-fashioned corporations and while that is the case, any such use of it would only work in ways that suit those companies' agenda. Even companies like Google, who profess on the outside to 'do no evil' can not help but allow their moral compasses to waver when faced with situations that the sheer pace of technological development is now hurling at us.
Therefore, any such data to which the mind can connect in such a way must always be open source, free and free from bias, provided by like-minded individuals brought up separately from the corrupt, dying systems of today. Such a separation is of course, heavily foolish to expect or want – but there are some signs it is possible exhibited in alternative schools, and more ominously by such religion/money-spinners as Scientology. Perhaps the better way is to acknowledge and accept the mistakes of our current society, and for us all to clamber down off the moral high horses that rampant capitalism, suppresive despotism, despicable fascism or ostensible communism are in any way the answers to our future.
A COUNTRY WITH NO FIXED ADDRESS
Voluntary contribution to society would be a major step towards true democracy. True democracy does not fit with any of the models of government we have in the world today, because true democracy listens to everyone equally. It really does give power to the people by allowing all to contribute. The best examples of it are in the open-source community. If there is disagreement, there is a fork of the project. Geographical barriers no longer meaning what they once did, [this could work politically too] BITNATION. The internet is the new world map. And the people drawing it will be our children. They'll develop and contribute the world's affairs like source code for software, holding regular bug jams to deal with the problems left outstanding from the last update and maybe by the time we reach Humanity v.100.2 we'll be able to say we've dealt with enough problems to add more features and extend our positive influence...!
With this will come more easily an acceptance of all the freedoms together. And with that will come exploration much more akin to what we see in the likes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The future is not lost, the way is wide open to it. We just need to clear out the skeletons of our past methods first. And like the funeral of an obnoxious old uncle, we will hold respect and relief in equal measure for the passing of the old ways and the fresh start that overlaps that grief and respect, for the commencement of the new.
School's out, children. Let us know what you think of the new school when you show us what you can do together to help us all.
by Danfox Davies
Danfox is a member of the furry fandom, the fairness and kindness of which he is very grateful for. He intends to explore the concept of Freedom of Form at length for the benefit of everyone in and after university, where he is studying Biochemistry and Genetics. He is the founder of Vulpine Designs Unlimited, an organisation whose purpose is to try to promote this sort of thinking and blend it with creative design. He is also a member of the Pirate Party of the United Kingdom, an environmentalist and some sort of transhumanist. No prizes for guessing his birth name is Daniel.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / Antonu Licensed under CC-BY-SA