Christopher Wren Course on Emerging Technology

Christopher Wren

This semester we have about 25 adults in the class, with a good mix of engineers, some very experienced teachers and other educators including a psychologist or two and a former university librarian.  Most exhibit a fair amount of geekiness,  though a few use a fairly limited number of tools.   Most have advanced degrees, and they choose the class based on the following catalog description.

H.G. Wells warns us that “civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe” – a warning that seems even more urgent today than it was a century ago.  Future generations will need to harness the increased power of technology to solve a multitude of problems.  How are our schools and colleges preparing students to deal with such challenges as environmental degradation, wide-scale technological unemployment, cybernetic revolt or bioengineered pandemics?

The class meets for three sessions, and one of the goals of the class is to help the participants learn a little bit about four technologies that are converging (IMHO) to reshape the work that the next generation of students will inherit.  The technologies that we are looking at in our whirlwind tour include:  artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning and related methods within AI, robots and the internet of things (IoT).  The second goal is to encourage folks to apply their individual and collective understanding of these technologies to envision what the world of work might look like if we see continued growth of the power of these tools.  The final goal is to help us figure out what we might be able to do as citizens to help ours schools better prepare students to succeed in that kind of world.

As we’re having our discussions, I try to get us to focus on what kind of technological change we might experience over the next 8 years.  That time frame seems to be particularly relevant to those of us involved in higher education planning since it encourages us look at the work world through the eyes of traditional students who are entering 9th grade today.  Assuming that they graduate from high school in four years and college in four years (a pretty big assumption, I know), we’re trying to imagine how might their work world be different than it is today.  Because our overall “digital power” is doubling every year, we can expect the computers in that workplace to be 100 times more powerful than today’s (which seem pretty powerful when you look back just 8 years.)

As we work through this process in the class, there are a number of “meta-problems” that I’m trying keep before us as we try to figure out the implications for the future.

  • The Yogi Berra Problem (aka The Prediction Problem)
  • The Complexity Problem
  • The Lily Pad Problem (aka The Second Half of the Chessboard)
  • The Wicked Problem Problem
  • The “We Are Nearly as Rational as we Think We Are” problem.
  • The “Psychology of Chance Encounters” Problem
  • The Brain on a Stick Problem
  • The Filter Bubble Problem
  • The 90% Problem

I have a pdf file that summarizes these problems at Wren Talking Points and I’ll cover them in more detail as we wrap up the course.