Four hints from the future of technology and education

With this post I continue my habit of sharing stories that seem to suggest useful glimpses of the future.  They’re drawn from my obsessive horizon scanning.

Let’s take a look into autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, plutocrats, social media, and state education funding.

ITEM: Google is continuing to expand its cloud service empire.  They’re even laying an undersea cable, which always makes history-obsessed me think of the telegraph.

Why does this matter?  A few reasons, starting with the quiet point that cloud computing just keeps growing, moving from strength to strength.  It’s all about giant capital enterprises now, which we apparently inhabit to increasing degrees.

It’s also important because the news isn’t flashy.  There’s nothing spectacular in this story, no explosion, no sudden change.  It’s just a quiet datapoint about an important trend.  Futurists have to notice and share these developments, because they can change the world.

ITEM: speaking of Google, George Soros turned on them, as well as against Facebook.  Together they are, in his words, “a menace”.  Moreover,  “[t]heir days are numbered.”  Soros has thrown down the gauntlet, placing the tech giants alongside Trump and nuclear war as civilizational threats. (official transcript)

Why does this matter?  We could see the speech as a datapoint for a trend of tech criticism spreading.  We could also recognize it as a sign of what I’ve called an intra-elite squabble.  As with the famous Apple investor letter, the new doubts about leading technology enterprises and practices are not a question of popular dislike or academic critique, but of disputes within the plutocracy.  As income inequality continues to escalate, as you know, dear readers, the views of millionaires and billionaires becomes ever more dispositional.  This will be the biggest driver of increasing state regulation.

ITEM: The American Automobile Association (AAA) just polled Americans about their attitudes towards self-driving cars, and the responses are very instructive, both about autonomous vehicles and this culture in general.

For example, familiarity seems to be reducing fear: “Six-in-ten (63%) U.S. drivers would be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, down from 78 percent in early 2017.”

Gendering around cars is strong: “Women (73%) are more likely to be afraid than men (52%).”  Asked if they “would feel less safe sharing the road with fully self-driving cars while they drive a regular car… Women (55%) are more likely to feel less safe than men (36%).”  More: “Men (79%) are more likely to consider themselves better-than average drivers than women (68%).”

Generational differences are also firm, as they tend to be with Americans and technology, with youth and tech interest being decently correlated.  For example, “Generation X (70%) and baby boomers (68%) drivers are more likely to be afraid [to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle] than millennial drivers (49%).”  Elsewhere, “Baby Boomer (54%) and Generation X (47%) drivers are more likely to feel less safe [sharing the road with fully self-driving cars while they drive a regular car] than millennial drivers (34%).”  On attitude, “Baby Boomer drivers (79%) are more likely to consider themselves better-than-average drivers than Generation X (69%) drivers.”

Does this mean younger men are likely to lead the migration into autonomous cars?  Perhaps, and it wouldn’t surprise most of us.  The reverse is that opposition might be represented by older women, which could lead to some interesting politics.   However, generations aren’t destiny, despite Strauss and Howe, and things could well flip across these axes.

ITEM: American states increased public higher education funding, but barely.  “[S]tate fiscal support for higher education grew by just 1.6 percent… down sharply from a 4.2 percent increase last year and represents the lowest annual growth in the last five years.”

Things were uneven, varying by state:

On the positive side, this is growth, which is better than what states have been doing for the past generation, on a per-student basis.

On the other hand,

“We’ve seen only anemic growth nationwide, with the exception of a few states,” said James Palmer, Grapevine editor and a professor of higher education at Illinois State University…

“This probably suggests the struggle of many states to sustain the revenue needed to increase funding for colleges and universities,” Palmer said of this year’s slow growth in higher ed funding. “In other words, the fiscal capacity to increase funding for colleges and universities doesn’t seem to be there.”

So we might see state funding struggle upwards, although competition within budgets is fierce.  Recall, too, that America is still thinking that more people need more post-secondary education.  It’s hard to fund that, unless we keep boosting student loan debt.

Note the unevenness across states.  Each state has its own drivers, like North Dakota’s grappling with collapsed oil prices.

Cars, clouds, zillionaires, and states: that’s enough for now.  What do you make of these set of signals from potential futures?

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4 Responses to Four hints from the future of technology and education

  1. Nancy Marksbury says:

    …and after the Net Neutrality event yesterday, I received an email this morning from Netflix letting me know they’re increasing the monthly rate!

  2. Joe Murphy says:

    I wonder what the relationship is between Google’s global cloud infrastructure expansion and various national/regional privacy laws. I know we’ve seen this in ed tech before – Turnitin, I believe, opened a Canadian data center (or is that centre?) in order to keep Canadian customers who felt that US servers, subject to the PATRIOT act, couldn’t be in compliance with Canadian privacy law.

    I’m surprised by the gendering of the autonomous car data. Maybe I shouldn’t be, since AAA framed the question as about “fear.” I wish they’d given similar breakdowns on who “wants” the technology in their next car, or who “trusts” the technology. (My hypothesis is that US males, living up to a “gearhead” stereotype, will actually be slow to adopt the technology, while women might be cautious but ultimately more willing to adopt. I suspect class issues will also reveal over this issue.)

    It wouldn’t at all surprise me if there is eventually a generational flip starting with older Boomers – as eyesight and reaction times decline, autonomous cars could return a lot of independence to folks who might otherwise avoid driving after dark or for long distances. Should make for some great commercials – teens and grandparents enjoying the benefits of self-driving cars while the fuddy-duddy Xers need persuading.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Greetings, Joe, and thank you for the thoughts.

      Autonomous car attitudes: yes, I’d love to see the class angle, too.

      Waiting for the generational flip, too.

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