If, in the era of Facebook and Google, IBM has lost some of its “cool” in recent years, the 100-year-old company (check out this great video celebrating its Centennial) has redeemed itself with WATSON – the Jeopardy winning computer.
This past week, I had the opportunity to listen to four of the top IBM researchers muse about the world of 2050. They admit, like many of us in education also do, it is difficult to event plan five years out, but Don Eigler, Spike Narayan, Dr. Winfried Wilicke, and Thomas Zimmerman did identify some interesting trends. While there was some talk of flying cars (maybe not quite the Jetsons), the continual growth and change in the movement of data, the requirements of energy in a world that will need to be sustainability-focussed with water being the new oil, I was struck by the idea of synthetic immortality — and just what it might mean for schools.
The idea of synthetic immortality was put forward by Thomas Zimmerman, whose Data Glove invention sold over one million units in the field of Virtual Reality. Zimmerman was also named California Volunteer of the Year in 2009 for his science-enrichment work in schools. The idea of synthetic immortality is that, since we are creating and posting so much digital content about ourselves and others — and this is only increasing (apparently some people are now basically digitally documenting every hour of their life), in the future — we will be able to pull all of this data together and, even after someone dies, create an avatar that someone could interview and engage with. This will sure change book reports. You want to interview a former Prime Minister, you can just call up the synthetic version of that person. With all the digital content, it is not something I had considered — our perpetuity beyond our lives. A good deal has been written about managing social media after one dies, like this recent New York Times article and this one in Time but not, at least from what I have seen, about how this could all be aggregated together to virtualize someone.
While it is difficult to even get my head around what schooling and learning should and could look like for my kids over the next 10 years, it is interesting to hear people predict what it could look like for my kids’ kids.
One final connection on this topic, if you haven’t seen this video, A Day Made of Glass — Made Possible by Corning, do take a look at it. It is an interesting window into the future:
The subject does make some of our current conversations around the edges of change seem quite small, given what is likely coming soon.