Ten Trends 2014


4 The singularity 2014

The singularity

Explanation

In recent years technology has become smaller, more personalised, and more connected. This in turn is affecting the ways we are using technology and our expectations of it as an almost ‘essential’ part of our day-to-day existence. The “singularity” is a concept most often associated with the development of artificial intelligence, and the hypothetical moment in time when we’ll see a complete merging of technology with our lives.

We’ve chosen to use the term for our trend with a slightly broader view, describing the convergence of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life.

It’s not so long ago that a computer was thought of as something that sat on a desk in an office — usually consisting of a separate CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Then came laptops — integrating all of these features into a single unit, and freeing us from being tied to a particular place to use it.

The World Wide Web saw us gain even greater flexibility and use of these devices. What followed was the inclusion of many of the features of a laptop into what were previously known as mobile phones but now called mobile devices because of all of the functionality embedded in them. Beyond these, we’re now seeing the emergence of technologies that we can wear or have embedded within the things we use everyday — or into our bodies! The key thing here is that where these sorts of technologies were once regarded as something ‘external’ to ourselves, they, and the functionality they provide, are becoming increasingly ‘a part’ of us — how we live, work, and communicate.

Drivers

The emergence of the singularity is the result of three key drivers:

  1. User expectation of a more personalised, just-in-time user experience of the technology. Consider the demand for ubiquitous, wireless connectivity along with more personalised and ‘smart’ interfaces that respond to where you are, what you are doing, and
  2. Technology miniaturisation — technology is becoming lighter, more ergonomic, easier to use and wear, and has a longer battery life.
  3. Technology convergence — both the functional convergence within devices, and the convergence that is enabled through seamless identity and access management, data-sharing protocols, and location-aware applications.

Examples in practice

An obvious educational example of this trend occurring currently is in schools pursuing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. Allowing students to have ownership and control over the device they choose to bring with them to school to support their learning has opened the floodgates to new models of how teaching and learning occur (PDF, 2.3 MB). We need to be considering how much more we’ll see happening as the notion of the singularity becomes even more evident — when mobile devices are replaced by wearable devices, or by technology embedded into the clothing we wear, or even a part of our own bodies.

Google released their glasses nearly two years ago — and these are now available as an option from many optometrists. This year they released Android Wear in the form of watches that “allow information to move with you”. The watches are just the beginning — in the future we’ll see broaches, necklaces, headbands, and all manner of wearable devices emerging.

Nike has had its running app available for at least two years now, with a sensor embedded in the sole of your shoe that communicates with your smartphone to tell you how fast you are running, and how far and how many calories are being used. Making things even more personal, Motorola have plans for an electronic neck tattoo that operates as an auxiliary voice input to a mobile communication device.

Such apps are already being used in education settings, ensuring that learners can learn in their location as well as learning about the location they’re in. Some apps include links to maps and translator tools as well as providing augmented reality experiences of what you’re viewing or engaging with. All of this is a part of the growing world of the “Internet of things”, involving the continual merging of the physical and digital realms capitalising on the huge increase in the number of internet-connected devices, objects, sensors, and actuators. Understanding a world where anything, including humans, may be a ‘node’ on the Internet of Things will be increasingly important for our young learners to know, understand, and be able to operate within.

With the singularity trend comes the ability to envisage a time where a truly personalised learning experience may be possible — not simply through the customised delivery of learning content, but also through the ubiquitous connection to applications and services that are learning as you learn, and are able to provide information and challenges that target the next steps in learning that are unique to you.

Implications for the future – questions to guide discussion

As we consider where all of this may be taking us, we need to think specifically how such technologies may impact what we’re doing in our schools and classrooms. Here are some questions to help guide some proactive discussions among your staff and school community:

  1. How well equipped is your school to accommodate the demand for students to use mobile devices as a matter of course in their learning — in and out of school?
  2. In what ways might the constant tracking of learner behaviour and engagement via these devices be used constructively to achieve better learning outcomes?
  3. What are the privacy and ethical considerations that need to be taken into account?
  4. How is this thinking reflected in the ways in which your staff collaborate, plan, assess, and participate in professional learning?

Learn, participate, and share:

CORE staff are using Bundlr to collate links to articles and information relating to personalisation in a Bundlr collection. There is the option for you to choose to follow the growing collection over the next few months.