Proteus vs Papert – Musings by Dr. Jasmin B. Cowin

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What does the future of public, private and corporate education hold for us? I believe Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, neural nets and deep learning will be the catalysts for world-changing disruptions in fields such as medicine, education, and job creation. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Ford, Tesla to name but a few are positioned to be leaders in this transformation. Questions on institutional pathways to success and viability need to be framed against the background of AI, super intelligent machines and the broader questions of humanity and human consciousness.

In The Gears of my ChildhoodSeymour Papert states “What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available. These questions raise, recursively, the question of how he learned these models. Thus the “laws of learning” must be about how intellectual structures grow out of one another and about how, in the process, they acquire both logical and emotional form.” Papart sees the computer as the “proteus of machines,” the universal enabler, an instrument flexible enough so that “many children can create something” which assimilates new models of knowledge into their individual styles of learning. However, kindling the spark of “love” for learning and inquiry as the driving force in creating a “genesis of knowledge” is the dominant message of Papert’s essay and the universal message to and for educators.

For Ray Kurzweil “Technology goes beyond mere tool making; it is a process of creating ever more powerful technology using the tools from the previous round of innovation.” As a generation of students prepares for their future, they must be prepared for a fluid and lifetime assimilation of new technology and models of national and international coexistence.  However, Luke Rhinehart aka George Cockcroft, a psychiatrist, university professor, and writer of the cult novel The Dice Man wrote: “Man must become comfortable in flowing from one role to another, one set of values to another, one life to another. Men must be free from boundaries, patterns, and consistencies in order to be free to think, feel and create in new ways. Men have admired Prometheus and Mars too long; our God must become Proteus.”

Thinking about the future of education and humanity brought forth the questions: Is the quest for AI a quest to create God? If yes, in whose image? Alternatively, is this quest for the ultimate AI the ultimate archetypical story on the search for immortality? After all, humans have fantasized about the possibility of bringing a loved one back from the dead ever since that fateful, everlasting separation of Eurydice and her husband Orpheus on their wedding day through the venom of a viper. In this light, Rhinehart’s words that “men must be free from boundaries” seem prophetic.

Education, Virtual Reality and the 3D Campus

Virtual Worlds (VW’s) are bringing new challenges and a possible disruption of campus life as we know it to the forefront of higher education institutions via virtual campus creation. The quest for exceptional immersive learning spaces requires leaders in higher education and institutions to reflect on processes and practices into VW and 3D environments.

In their book E-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis explore the role of new technologies in communication with learners, changing knowledge representation and the role of new technologies in transforming educational institutions. E-learning has created robust learning societies outside academia. I predict that in the near future, educators, students, and VW participants will spend considerable time in VW’s interacting with each other.

Exploring new technological resources such as VW’s and their unique environments opens new dimensions of the formative teaching and learning process. The landscape of these”multimodal” workspaces has a global reach. Pierre Baldi and Crista Lopez discuss in their article The Universal Campus: An open virtual 3-D world infrastructure for research and education the “Universal Campus”, providing a campus 3-D virtual world with multiple buildings featuring fully furnished laboratories, classrooms, meeting rooms, auditoriums, concert spaces, libraries ,and lecture halls enabling virtual meetings and interactions for faculty, students, visitors, and administration. In my opinion, VW together with 3 D technology such as the Oculus will create innovative, global, transformative knowledge spaces.