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Top Tips from a Futurist

By Daniel Lincoln

02/18/2014

Top Tips from a Futurist
Jack Uldrich (photo: Jack Uldrich/AAIE).
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One of the world’s preeminent thinkers on future trends and emerging technologies spoke last week at the Association for the Advancement of International Education’s (AAIE) 48th Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Jack Uldrich, author of 20/20: a Futurist Explores the Trends transforming Tomorrow, spoke at length about the world of 2020, what it will look like, and how we and our institutions will need to change.

“Consider this,” Mr. Uldrich stated: “eight years ago Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Wikipedia did not even exist; neither did the iPhones, iPads apps or Kindles. Now, fast-forward eight years into the future and try to comprehend how accelerating advances … will continue to drive seismic change and deliver paradigm-shattering transformation to nearly every facet of society.”

The “game-changers” Mr. Uldrich pointed out to the audience include Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); low-cost, affordable and distributed clean energy; graphene, a new, “wonder material”; wearable technologies; thought-controlled computing; regenerative medicine; the Internet of Things; cryptocurrency; autonomous automobiles; and quantum computing.

The thing to remember here, Mr. Uldrich argued, is that these game-changing technologies “are engaged in a virtuous cycle whereby advances in one field accelerate advances in another. For example, MOOC’s may help educate the next great quantum physicist who, in turn, creates a company (funded entirely by anonymous donations of a new cryptocurrency) that manufactures a practical universal quantum computer that is used to discover a new fuel that makes spaceflight affordable to the masses.”

As for us, what posture could we adopt in the face of these trends? Mr. Uldrich spoke repeatedly of the need for humility, in recognizing that the world is changing, and accepting the possibilities inherent in this change. This is easier said than done, however because, in Mr. Uldrich’s words, “often so powerful is our intuition that it overrides scientific findings.”

“The future requires some humility,” he added. “And we need to prepare our students and ourselves for a world of complexity and ambiguity.” The words of the day are thus awareness, humility, and action. First up, Mr. Uldrich cautioned, “you are going to have to let go, subtract, and unlearn some of the things you know about your field and your students.”

Exponential growth is just ahead of us, but the need for humility comes from the fact that “early on, the doubling looks insignificant.” But we have seen explosive transformation before, and it is coming again. Citing Peter Drucker, Mr. Uldrich, reminded his audience that “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself,” and the way to create it yourself is not strategic planning (and the presumption behind it), but a more humble culture of modest experiments with—you guessed it—an exponential upside.

Learn more about Mr. Uldrich at http://jumpthecurve.net.




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