I am just posting this for posterity. The Pew Folks published the Future Of Higher Education research in 2011.
Q: In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work-related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the Internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.
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In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results. They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function. In sum, the changes in behavior and cognition among the young are generally negative outcomes.
A: There is recent evidence (Watson and Strayer) that suggests that some people are natural ‘supertaskers’ capable of performing two difficult tasks at once, without loss of ability on the individual tasks. This explodes the conventional wisdom that ‘no one can really multitask’, and by extension, the premise that we shouldn’t even try.
The human mind is plastic. The area of the brain that is associated with controlling the left hand, for example, is much larger in professional violinists. Likewise, trained musicians listen to music differently, using more centers of the brain, than found in non-musicians. To some extent this is obvious: we expect that mastery in physical and mental domains will change those master’s perceptions and skills. But cultural criticism seems to want to sequester certain questionable activities — like video gaming, social networking, multitasking, and others — into a no-man’s-land where the plasticity of the human mind is negative. None of these critics wring their hands about the dangerous impacts of learning to read, or the intellectual damage of learning a foreign language. But once kids get on a skateboard, or start instant messaging, it’s the fall of western civilization.
Perhaps most important, the sociality of web use frightens many detractors. But we have learned a great deal about social cognition in recent years thanks to advances in cognitive science, and we have learned that people are innately more social than was ever realized. The reason that kids are adapting so quickly to social tools online is because they align directly with human social connection, much of which takes place below our awareness. Social tools are being adopted because they match the shape of our minds, but, yes, they also stretch our minds based on use and mastery, just like martial arts, playing the piano, and badminton.
My friend Jamais Cascio wisely said that ‘technology is everything that was invented after you became thirteen’. Our society’s concern with the supposed negative impacts of the Internet will seem very old-fashioned in a decade, like Socrates bemoaning the downside of written language, or the 1950’s fears about Elvis Presley’s rock-and-roll gyrations.
Q: In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.
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By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.
A: The institutions that control education are far too conservative to made radical changes at the core of their world view in the decade between 2011 and 2020. Given a longer time line, say 25 years, I would agree, but the people that will be attending colleges in 2020 are alive today, and are attending extremely conventional elementary schools, for the most part. For a change of the sort sketched in the question, we would have to see a fragmenting of the consensus about higher education, and a paradigm-based battle between revolutionaries and conservatives of the form that Thomas Kuhn outlined in The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Once we start to see some significant number of established universities actually rejecting conventional education and adopting an alternative approach, then we’ll have a decade or so before it displaces the old model.
Q: By 2020, most people will have embraced and fully adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards. People will come to trust and rely on personal hardware and software for handling monetary transactions over the Internet and in stores. Cash and credit cards will have mostly disappeared from many of the transactions that occur in advanced countries.
People will not trust the use of near-field communications devices and there will not be major conversion of money to an all-digital-all-the-time format. By 2020, payments through the use of mobile devices will not have gained a lot of traction as a method for transactions. The security implications raise too many concerns among consumers about the safety of their money. And people are resistant to letting technology companies learn even more about their personal purchasing habits. Cash and credit cards will still be the dominant method of carrying out transactions in advanced countries.
A: I think that credit and debit cards will almost be dead by 2020, because of the convenience and lower costs of directing payments through mobile devices, either by swiping, near-field techniques, or other services offered by cell carriers or platform companies (like Apple). However, cash is hear to stay because there are a wide range of use cases where anonymity is necessary, like illegal transactions (drugs, sex, bribes), gray economics (paying undocumented immigrants), or other sorts of secret activities (gift for a mistress). It’s conceivable that an anonymous form of digital money could serve, like the design premises behind BitCoin, but that remains to be seen.
Q: In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology-users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.
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In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny - the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet” - will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.
A: We are quickly moving away from the so-called ‘open web’ — which means one based on browser-based access — to an app-based model of web access. This is not really being driven by security issues, as suggested in your question, but rather a combination of other factors. First, Apple and other platform companies can retain greater control of the user experience, and guarantee a uniformly better user experience in the app model, based on a controlled distribution of apps through platform-based app stores. This also has enormous economic incentives for app and platform companies, since blocking low-cost low-quality apps raises the average price for accepted apps.
Much more important: the ‘open web’ is based on relatively old principles and tired metaphors, like disconnected computers, http, and the desktop operating system of folders, files, and executables. Platform companies — especially Apple and Google — are moving to new meta-architecture principles, such as tablets, touch and gestural interfaces, ubiquitous connectivity, and social networking. These are being baked into the core platforms so that app developers will be able to take advantage of them, natively, without having to reinvent those wheels over and over again. Note that this provides a second and enormously large economic leverage for app developers, and by extension, for users. Put another way, the platform companies will push a great deal into their infrastructure, and app developers will be able to push much higher into ultrastructure, providing a much richer user experience via post-browser-web apps.
In the very near-term, like 5-7 years, the browser will drop from the most used tool to the least used, because of this change. Just look at how people use their iPhones, already. The browser will be something like the terminal program on the Mac: a tool for programmers and throwbacks, only occasionally used by regular folks.
A few years ago, I worked on a project for the Mozilla foundation, on the future of the browser. I was the first to raise my hand and say that in ten years the browser would be dead. The Mozilla guys laughed it off, but I am standing by my original prediction.
Q: Influence of Big Data, Internet of Things in 2020
Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of large data sets will improve social, political, and economic intelligence by 2020. The rise of what is known as “Big Data” will facilitate things like ”nowcasting” (real-time “forecasting” of events); the development of “inferential software” that assesses data patterns to project outcomes; and the creation of algorithms for advanced correlations that enable new understanding of the world. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a huge positive for society in nearly all respects.
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Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of Big Data will cause more problems than it solves by 2020. The existence of huge data sets for analysis will engender false confidence in our predictive powers and will lead many to make significant and hurtful mistakes. Moreover, analysis of Big Data will be misused by powerful people and institutions with selfish agendas who manipulate findings to make the case for what they want. And the advent of Big Data has a harmful impact because it serves the majority (at times inaccurately) while diminishing the minority and ignoring important outliers. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a big negative for society in nearly all respects.
PLEASE ELABORATE: What impact will Big Data have in 2020? What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate? How will use of Big Data change analysis of the world, change the way business decisions are made, change the way that people are understood?
A: Overall, the growth of the ‘internet of things’ and ‘big data’ will feed the development of new capabilities in sensing, understanding, and manipulating the world. However, the underlying analytic machinery — like Bruce Sterling’s ‘engines of meaning’ — will still require human cognition and curation to connect dots and see the big picture.
And there will be dark episodes, too, since the brightest light casts the darkest shadow. There are opportunities for terrible applications, like the growth of the surveillance society — where the authorities watch everything and analyze our actions, behavior and movements looking for patterns of illegality, something like a real-time Minority Report. On the other side, access to more large data can also be a blessing, so social advocacy groups may be able to amass information at a low- or zero-cost that would be unaffordable today. For example, consider the bottom-up creation of an alternative food system, outside the control of multinational agribusiness, and connecting local and regional food producers and consumers. Such a system, what I and others call Food Tech, might come together based on open data about people’s consumption, farmers’ production plans, and regional, cooperative logistics tools. So it will be a mixed bag, like most human technological advances.
Q: Getting into the gamification?
By 2020, gamification (the use of game mechanics, feedback loops, and rewards to spur interaction and boost engagement, loyalty, fun and/or learning) will not be implemented in most everyday digital activities for most people. While game use and game-like structures will remain an important segment of the communications scene and will have been adopted in new ways, the gamification of other aspects of communications will not really have advanced much beyond being an interesting development implemented occasionally by some segments of the population in some circumstances.
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By 2020, there will have been significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification. It will be making waves on the communications scene and will have been implemented in many new ways for education, health, work, and other aspects of human connection and it will play a role in the everyday activities of many of the people who are actively using communications networks in their daily lives.
PLEASE ELABORATE: Explain your choice and share your view of gamification and implications for the future. What new approaches to information sharing do you anticipate will be finding their footing by 2020? What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate?
A: Gamification is a passing fad, currently of interest to a small segment of the social tools developer community. In some segments it will have a long-term impact, but only in circumstances where it is integral, and not as a gloss or veneer.
Much of what gamification seeks to do — to increase involvement, and foster certain collective behaviors in groups of people — actually run counter to the fragmentation of user experience, online. The rise of apps means that users are spreading their time out over a larger number of more specialized tools, and tool developers try to counter that through inducements to stay, or return frequently, and to align activities with others: a forced viralization.
A much more profitable set of ideas? As people are made more autonomous they naturally move away from collaboration — where users share the same aims and reward systems — toward cooperation — where users do not necessarily share long-term goals or values. Gamification has little use in cooperation, and that is the area of social software that is least realized at this time, and which I predict will be the highest growth area in the future.
Q: [missing question must have been about the Home Of The Future.]
A: I think the home of 2020 will be a lot like the average house of today, although some major changes will take place, especially related to things that can be affordably brought on line, like entertainment, and things that can be dropped, like landlines. By 2020, nearly all entertainment media will be delivered via web, with the corresponding crash of cable companies, who become low-margin utilities.
I predict that most municipalities will take back cable- and phoneline-based internet infrastructure by imminent domain or State legislation, and provide low-cost or zero-cost connectivity to the home and business, probably supported by US government subsidies, arising from election 2012 infrastructure initiatives advanced by President Obama.
Appliance manufacturers will build in wifi capabilities into printers, TVs, refrigerators, hot water heaters, air conditioners, washing machines, and clothes dryers, subsidized by energy tax credits, so that people can minimize their energy use, and schedule machines to take advantage of lower-cost energy at night. Next generation solar heating systems will also be wifi-connected, relying on web-based computing to maximize energy capture.
But these will all be based on today’s houses, which are not particularly well-insulated. The real break though in housing will take a long time to roll out: so-called passive homes, or ultra low energy buildings, based on new materials and very different construction techniques. Maybe by 2040.
Q: Corporate responsibility: Which road will be taken?
In 2020, technology firms with their headquarters in democratic countries will be expected to abide by a set of norms - for instance, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) citizens being attacked or challenged by their governments. In this world, for instance, a Western telecommunications firm would not be able to selectively monitor or block the Internet activity of protestors at the behest of an authoritarian government without significant penalties in other markets.
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In 2020, technology firms headquartered in democratic countries will have taken steps to minimize their usefulness as tools for political organizing by dissidents. They will reason that too much association with sensitive activities will put them in disfavor with autocratic governments. Indeed, in this world, commercial firms derive significant income from filtering and editing their services on behalf of the world’s authoritarian regimes.
PLEASE ELABORATE: When it comes to the behavior and practices of global tech firms and political, social, and economic movements, how will firms respond? Explain your choice and share your view of this tension pair’s implications for the future. What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate?
A: Tech firms based in Western democratic countries will continue to support the compromises of political free speech and personal privacy that are, more or less, encoded in law and policy, today.
The wild card in the next decade is the degree to which civil unrest is limited to countries outside that circle. If disaffected youth, workers, students, or minorities begin to burn the blighted centers of Western cities, all bets are off because the forces of law and order may rise and demand control of the web.
And of course, as China and other countries with large populations, like India, Malaysia, and Brazil, begin to create their own software communities, who knows what forms will evolve, or what norms will prevail. But they are unlikely to be what we see in the West. So we can expect a fragmented web, where different regions are governed by very different principles and principals.