The main challenge

I am Angel Marchev, Jr., a fourth generation university professor and an eternal optimist. I would like to speak about our moment in time. We live in very exciting times. Times when science is outrunning fiction, when the biblical prophecies are slowly becoming technologically feasible, when folklore stories are rendered irrelevant.

We are putting more and more machines in space, striving towards other planets, inventing tiny robots to heal ourselves and building quantum computers. Breakthroughs in genetics, infromatics and neuro-science carry promise for prolonged and comfortable life. We are changing the natural essence of the evolution – we are starting to re-engineer our future.

It must have been similar feeling at the end of the 19th century – huge technological advancements have passed and yet the best is yet to come. Best is always yet to come. We are merely a decade into the new century and it already feels like we are in the next. It is as if time goes too fast for us humans.

And here lies the main issue – just like at the end of the 19th century there is a mass of non-progressive people. It is sufficient to have one visionary for every ten thousand non-believers. So naturally the forward thinkers are minority. And the changes so far have happened unnoticed. What was supposed to be will never occur.

We all know about the conflict at the point of separation between linear thinking and the exponential progress. It is in every area of human activity – we have people defending the status quo, people opposing the coming technology, people generally ignoring the obvious leaps in the techno-culture. People are continuing their lives in the 21 century as if it is 1980s – not seeing the benefits of the worldwide knowledge sharing but even worse: not contemplating the effects of the information revolution. On the other hand we have smaller (but increasing) groups of people that have not only propelled the progress but are also sensing the change, adapting to it, getting ahead of the curve.

It is not a culture clash, nor it is a class struggle – it has a better name – it is future shock – the fear of the fast approaching future. Frankly the biggest challenge I see lying in the path ahead is enlightenment – bridging linear thinking minds to the concept of technological singularity.

The shock is becoming so severe that it poses a danger of social unrest towards the inevitable changes. So much that I predict tears in the fabric of society right where the two philosophies collide – a collision not “Old” vs. “Young” but past lookers vs. forward thinkers. Such social turmoil is dangerous because it would make the social transition very rough.

The only solution for smoothing this transition (as it has always been in the past) is education. The goal of my proposal is educating a generation of lateral forward thinkers, adapting to the change, capable to overcome the future shock.

At the same time the “regular” education itself suffers from linear thinking. I have tons of respect to the members of the jury, but all of us (me included) are products of education systems not only projecting in linear space but also significantly lagging behind – say two centuries.

Even now some of my colleagues insist that their students should write down exactly what they are dictating in the lectures. Most of our colleagues teaching at the universities insist that the students should buy their paper books as the only source of information on their topic. These times have passed! Of course writing was important back when there was no way to publish massively information. After the printing press, publishing of books become relatively cheap, so it was up to the professor to be a synthesizer of knowledge – he/she reads all available information, and puts the important filtered information in one place. For the last fifteen years there is a new instruction for the students – it is notWRITE!” (“… what I am dictating”);  it is notREAD!” (“…what I have put down in the book”); but it is “CLICK!” (“because every knowledge is few clicks away”). Nowadays the professor must be motivator, not synthesizer. There is a new educational paradigm, which is “PLAY!” – playing educational games (and simulations), using active methods of learning.

The new challenges need new type of solutions, a new type of educational paradigm. I believe, no, I know that the successful educational paradigm is gaming and active methods of learning. So my proposal is naturally a game. I propose a competition (for now among students) on ideas for inventing businesses using future (coming) technologies.

Now, edugaming has one critical requirement – you have to be able to motivate the students to participate sincerely. This is what I am good at. This is what I do. Officially I am teaching in the system of higher education for about ten years – which considering the workload here is about 8000 classes. Unofficially I am in the business of teaching ever since I am born. And I am practicing active methods of teaching, games and simulations in 100% of my classes. I have perfected the skill of ad-hoc game and competition creation. Some colleagues say that out of my students I am building an army of devoted zombies. Army is a strong word – better use network. And yes they are devoted, but are not zombies except the fact that they always seem to crave after more brains. (You could see some testimonials and videos from my classes here…)

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