Yesterday I heard Sir Ken Robinson speak live at the EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, CA. Readers may know Ken Robinson by his acclaimed talks about education on TEDx. Robinson, professor, author and advocate for education reform, is originally from Britain—his humour dry, self-deprecating, and quite funny. He did not disappoint on Wednesday despite the early hour of his keynote talk Leading a Culture of Innovation. Robinson spoke of culture and technology, technology’s influence on human behaviour, and in turn its impact on cultural values and norms. Culture, according to Robinson, ‘manifests itself in every part of our being’. In response, cultures around the world are changing significantly. Though I’m not clear on what Robinson believes—whether its humans driving the change or if it’s the other way around. But the point is moot given that our ‘digital culture is transforming the face of our earth’, to the point that ‘information systems will soon merge with human consciousness’ according to Sir Ken. I found this idea quite disturbing. Not something I like to think about, but it seems we should. Robinson believes that machines, artificial intelligence, at some point will be able to make decisions independent of human intervention, in other words machines will potentially be as smart as, or smarter than humans. This concept is singularity; a theoretical point in time when robots are smarter than humans. It seems Bill Gates of Microsoft and Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google don’t deny that this time will come, though both are mum as to exactly when that time might be.
The statement made by Robinson in his keynote, ‘information systems will soon merge with human consciousness’ sounded familiar. I had just read something remarkably something similar last week. It was in The Global Village: Transformations in a World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989) by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers. McLuhan, (1911 – 1980) a professor communication theory, author of the critical text the Gutenberg Galaxy among other books, was a futurist in his own right. In the introduction, of The Global Village co-author Powers writes this:
“McLuhan believed in an investigation of this book’s precepts, his last collaborative work, would prove out his most profound thought: that the extensions of human consciousness were projecting themselves into the total world environment via electronics, forcing humankind into a robotic future. In other words, man’s nature was being very rapidly translated into information systems would produce enormous sensitivity and no secrets.” McLuhan and Powers
Robinson’s statements about technology and its role in the future echoed McLuhan’s. I found Robinson’s language somewhat softer, though the messages similar—technology is driving change around the globe, impacting how we communicate, how we relate to one another, and function in society. What’s more, artificial intelligence will be a reality for better or worse. On the brighter side of Robinson’s talk, he spoke of creativity and imagination, referring to his recently re-launched book Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Originally published in 2001, the book has been revised and updated. I wrote a review of this book a few months ago. It’s an excellent read. Below are highlights of the other key takeaways from the keynote.
Key takeaways from Sir Ken Robinson’s Keynote:
- How people use technology creates cultural shifts; impacts how people feel, think and act.
- Conversely, human ‘feelings’ impact how technology is used.
- Humans are unpredictable. How they use technology may go far beyond what the developers intended or imagined.
- Imagination is unique to human beings. Imagination leads to creativity. Creativity is the act of creating something of value (to the beholder).
- Perception is everything when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of technological innovation.
- We need to allow for creativity by not seeking the ‘right’ answer
- What questions should higher education be asking?
- Exercise in creative thinking: watch this two-minute video on when there is a correct answer
- Creativity—original thinking, most often comes when people ask a different question.
Video Sir Ken Showed in his Keynote: When There is a Correct Answer: Exercise in Creative Thinking