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Lee Smolin
Physicist, Perimeter Institute; Author, The Trouble With Physics

THE LIBERATION OF TIME

I would like to describe a change in viewpoint, which I believe will alter how we think about everything from the most abstract questions on the nature of truth to the most concrete questions in our daily lives. This change comes from the deepest and most difficult problems facing contemporary science: those having to do with the nature of time.

The problem of time confronts us at every key juncture in fundamental physics: What was the big bang and could something have come before it? What is the nature of quantum physics and how does it unify with relativity theory? Why are the laws of physics we observe the true laws, rather than other possible laws? Might the laws have evolved from different laws in the past?

After a lot of discussion and argument, it is becoming clear to me that these key questions in fundamental physics come down to a very simple choice, having to do with the answers to two simple questions: What is real? And what is true?

Many philosophies and religions offer answers to these questions, and most give the same answer: reality and truth transcend time. If something is real, it has a reality which continues forever, and if something is true, it is not just true now, it was always true, and will always be. The experience we have of the world existing within a flow of time is, according to some religions and many contemporary physicists and philosophers, an illusion. Behind that illusion is a timeless reality, in modern parlance, the block universe. Another manifestation of this ancient view is the currently popular idea that time is an emergent quality not present in the fundamental formulation of physics.

The new viewpoint is the direct opposite. It asserts that what is real is only what is real in the moment, which is one of a succession of moments. It is the same for truth: what is true is only what is true in the moment. There are no transcendent, timeless truths.

There is also no past. The past only lives as part of the present, to the extent that it gives us evidence of past events. And the future is not yet real, which means that it is open and full of possibilities, only a small set of which will be realized. Nor, on this view, is there any possibility of other universes. All that exists must be part of this universe, which we find ourselves in, at this moment.

This view changes everything, beginning with how we think of mathematics. On this view there can be no timeless, Platonic, realm of mathematical objects. The truths of mathematics, once discovered, are certainly objective. But mathematical systems have to be invented-or evoked- by us. Once brought into being, there are an infinite number of facts which are true about mathematical objects, which further investigation might discover. There are an infinite number of possible axiomatic systems that we might so evoke and explore-but the fact that different people will agree on what has been shown about them does not imply that they existed, before we evoked them.

I used to think that the goal of physics was the discovery of a timeless mathematical equation that was isomorphic to the history of the universe. But if there is no Platonic realm of timeless mathematical object, this is just a fantasy. Science is then only about what we can discover is true in the one real universe we find ourselves in.

More specifically, this view challenges how we think about cosmology. It opens up new ways to approach the deepest questions, such as why the laws we observe are true, and not others, and what determined the initial conditions of the universe. The philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce wrote in 1893 that the only way of accounting for which laws were true would be through a mechanics of evolution, and I believe this remains true today. But the evolution of laws requires time to be real. Furthermore, there is, I believe, evidence on technical grounds that the correct formulations of quantum gravity and cosmology will require the postulate that time is real and fundamental.

But the implications of this view will be far broader. For example, in neoclassical, economic theory, which is anchored in the study of equilibria of markets and games, time is largely abstracted away. The fundamental results on equilibria by Arrow and Debreu assume that there are fixed and specifiable lists of goods, and strategies, and that each consumer’s tastes and preferences are unchanging.

But can this be completely correct, if growth is driven by opportunities that suddenly appear from unpredictable discoveries of new products, new strategies, and new modes of organization? Getting economic theory right has implications for a wide range of policy decisions, and how time is treated is a key issue. An economics that assumes that we cannot predict key innovations must be very different from one that assumes all is knowable at any time.

The view that time is real and truth is situated within the moment further implies that there is no timeless arbiter of meaning, and no transcendent or absolute source of values or ethics. Meaning, values and ethics are all things that we humans project into the world. Without us, they don’t exist.

This means that we have tremendous responsibilities. Both mathematics and society are highly constrained, but within those constraints there are an infinitude of possibilities, only a few of which can be evoked and explored in the finite time we have. Because time is real and the future does not yet exist, the imaginative and social worlds in which we will live are to be brought into being by the choices we will make.


Marti Hearst
Computer Scientist, UC Berkeley, School of Information; Author, Search User Interfaces

THE DECLINE OF TEXT

As an academic I am of course loathe to think about a world without reading and writing, but with the rapidly increasing ease of recording and distributing video, and its enormous popularity, I think it is only a matter of time before text and the written word become relegated to specialists (such as lawyers) and hobbyists.

Movies have already replaced books as cultural touchstones in the U.S. And most Americans dislike watching movies with subtitles. I assume that given a choice, the majority of Americans would prefer a video-dominant world to a text-dominant one. (Writing as a technologist, I don't feel I can speak for other cultures.) A recent report by Pew Research included a quote from a media executive who said that emails containing podcasts were opened 20% more often than standard marketing email. And I was intrigued by the use of YouTube questions in the U.S. presidential debates. Most of the citizen-submitted videos that were selected by the moderators consisted simply of people pointing the camera at themselves and speaking their question out loud, with a backdrop consisting of a wall in a room of their home. There were no visual flourishes; the video did not add much beyond what a questioner in a live audience would have conveyed. Video is becoming a mundane way to communicate.

Note that I am not predicting the decline of erudition, in the tradition of Allan Bloom. Nor am I arguing that video will make us stupid, as in Niel Postman's landmark "Amusing Ourselves to Death." The situation is different today. In Postman's time, the dominant form of video communication was television, which allowed only for one-way, broadcast-style interaction. We should expect different consequences when everyone uses video for multi-way communication. What I am espousing is that the forms of communication that will do the cultural "heavy lifting" will be audio and video, rather than text.

How will this come about? As a first step, I think there will be a dramatic reduction in typing; input of textual information will move towards audio dictation. (There is a problem of how to avoid disturbing officemates or exposing seat-mates on public transportation to private information; perhaps some sound-canceling technology will be developed to solve this problem.) This will succeed in the future where it has failed in the past because of future improvements in speech recognition technology and ease-of-use improvements in editing, storage, and retrieval of spoken words.

There already is robust technology for watching and listening to video at a faster speed than recorded, without undue auditory distortion (Microsoft has an excellent in-house system for this). And as noted above, technology for recording, editing, posting, and storing video has become ubiquitous and easy to use. As for the use of textual media to respond to criticisms and to cite other work, we already see "video responses" as a heavily used feature on YouTube. One can imagine how technology and norms will develop to further enrich this kind of interaction.

The missing piece in technology today is an effective way to search for video content. Automated image analysis is still an unsolved problem, but there may well be a breakthrough on the horizon. Most algorithms of this kind are developed by "training", that is, by exposing them to large numbers of examples. The algorithms, if fed enough data, can learn to recognize patterns which can be applied to recognize objects in videos the algorithm hasn't yet seen. This kind of technology is behind many of the innovations we see in web search engines, such as accurate spell checking and improvements in automated language translation. Not yet available are huge collections of labeled image and video data, where words have been linked to objects within the images, but there are efforts afoot to harness the willing crowds of online volunteers to gather such information.

What about developing versus developed nations? There is of course an enormous literacy problem in developing nations. Researchers are experimenting with cleverly designed tools such as the Literacy Bridge Talking Book project which uses a low-cost audio device to help teach reading skills. But perhaps just as developing nations "leap-frogged" developed ones by skipping land-line telephones to go straight to cell phones, the same may happen with skipping written literacy and moving directly to screen literacy.

I am not saying text will disappear entirely; one counter-trend is the replacement of orality with text in certain forms of communication. For short messages, texting is efficient and unobtrusive. And there is the question of how official government proclamations will be recorded. Perhaps there will be a requirement for transliteration into written text as a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for the hearing-impaired (although we can hope in the future for increasingly advanced technology to reverse such conditions). But I do think the importance of written words will decline dramatically both in culture and in how the world works. In a few years, will I be submitting my response to the Edge question as a podcast?


April Gornik
Artist, New York City; Danese Gallery

ANIMAL FEELINGS

There is a growing scientific consensus that animals have emotions and feel pain. This awareness is going to effect change: better treatment of animals in agribusiness, research, and our general interaction with them. It will change the way we eat, live, and preserve the planet. We will eliminate the archaic tendency to base their treatment on an equation of their intelligence with ours. The measure of and self-congratulation for our own intelligence should have its basis in our moral behavior as well as our smarts.


Joel Garreau
New America Foundation fellow; Washington Post Staff Writer; Author, Radical Evolution

THE ERUPTION OF NEW RELIGIONS SHAPED BY UPHEAVAL

We are turning environmentalism into an elaborate moral narrative. We are doing the same for neurology. And possibly globalism. This makes me wonder whether we are creating the greatest eruption of religion in centuries, if not millennia—an epoch comparable to the Great Awakening, if not the Axial Age. If so, this will change everything.

Financially, politically, climatically and technologically, the ground is moving beneath our feet. Our narratives of how the world works are not matching the facts. Yet humans are pattern-seeking, story-telling animals. Human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation. We will always fill such a vacuum with meaning.

Think of the constellations in the night sky. Humans eagerly connect dots and come up with the most elaborate—even poetic—tales, adorning them with heroes and myths, rather than tolerate randomness. The desire to believe goes way back in evolutionary history.

The Axial Age, circa 800 B.C. to 200 B.C. was a period of unique and fundamental focus on transcendence that is the beginning of humanity as we now know it. All over the world, humans simultaneously began to wake up to a burning need to grapple with deep and cosmic questions. All the major religious beliefs are rooted in this period.

The search for spiritual breakthrough was clearly aching and urgent. Perhaps it arose all over the world, simultaneously, among cultures that were not in touch with each other, because it marked a profound shift. Perhaps it was the rise of human consciousness. If such profound restatements of how the world works arose universally the last time we had a transition on the scale of that from biological evolution to cultural evolution, is it logical to think it is happening again as we move from cultural evolution to radical technological evolution?

The evidence is beginning to accumulate. The pursuit of moral meaning in environmentalism has advanced to the state that it has become highly controversial. Some Christians view it as a return to paganism. Some rationalists view it as a retreat from the complexities of the modern world. Yet it would appear that there is something to the idea of environmentalism having religious value. Otherwise, why would we find some fundamentalists regarding the stewardship of creation as divinely mandated?

Then there is the new vision of transcendence coming out of neuroscience. It’s long been observed that intelligent organisms require love to develop or even just to survive. Not coincidentally, we can readily identify brain functions that allow and require us to be deeply relational with others. There are also aspects of the brain that can be shown to equip us to experience elevated moments when we transcend boundaries of self. What happens as the implications of all this research starts suggesting that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human physical traits?

Some of this is beginning to overlap with our economic myths—that everything fits together, that the manufacturing of a sneaker connects a jogger in Portland to a village in Malaysia. There is an interconnectedness of things.

If we came to believe deeply that there is a value somehow in the way things are connected—the web of life, perhaps—is that the next Enlightenment?

The importance of creating such a commonly held framework is that without it, we have no way to move forward together. How can we agree on what must be done if we do not have in common an agreement on what constitutes the profoundly important?

This much seems certain. We’re in the midst of great upheaval. It is impossible to think that this does not have an impact on the kind of narratives that are central to what it means to be human. Such narratives could be nothing less than our new means of managing transcendence—of coming up with specific ways to shape the next humans we are creating. If so, this would change everything.


RUPERT SHELDRAKE
Biologist; Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project; Author A New Science of Life

THE CREDIT CRUNCH FOR MATERIALISM

Credit crunches happen because of too much credit and too many bad debts. Credit is literally belief, from the Latin credo, "I believe." Once confidence ebbs, the loss of trust is self-reinforcing. The game changes.

Something similar is happening with materialism. Since the nineteenth century, its advocates have promised that science will explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry; science will show that there is no God and no purpose in the universe; it will reveal that God is a delusion inside human minds and hence in human brains; and it will prove that brains are nothing but complex machines.

Materialists are sustained by the faith that science will redeem their promises, turning their beliefs into facts. Meanwhile, they live on credit. The philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper described this faith as "promissory materialism" because it depends on promissory notes for discoveries not yet made. Despite all the achievements of science and technology, it is facing an unprecedented credit crunch.

In 1963, when I was studying biochemistry at Cambridge I was invited to a series of private meetings with Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner in Brenner's rooms in King's College, along with a few of my classmates. They had just cracked the genetic code. Both were ardent materialists. They explained there were two major unsolved problems in biology: development and consciousness. They had not been solved because the people who worked on them were not molecular biologists—nor very bright. Crick and Brenner were going to find the answers within 10 years, or maybe 20. Brenner would take development, and Crick consciousness. They invited us to join them.

Both tried their best. Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his work on the development of the nematode worm Caenorhabdytis. Crick corrected the manuscript of his final paper on the brain the day before he died in 2004. At his funeral, his son Michael said that what made him tick was not the desire to be famous, wealthy or popular, but "to knock the final nail into the coffin of vitalism."

He failed. So did Brenner. The problems of development and consciousness remain unsolved. Many details have been discovered, dozens of genomes have been sequenced, and brain scans are ever more precise. But there is still no proof that life and minds can be explained by physics and chemistry alone.

The fundamental proposition of materialism is that matter is the only reality. Therefore consciousness is nothing but brain activity. However, among researchers in neuroscience and consciousness studies there is no consensus. Leading journals such as Behavioural and Brain Sciences and the Journal of Consciousness Studies publish many articles that reveal deep problems with the materialist doctrine. For example, Steven Lehar argues that inside our heads there must be a miniaturized virtual-reality full-colour three-dimensional replica of the world. When we look at the sky, the sky is in our heads. Our skulls are beyond the sky. Others, like the psychologist Max Velmans, argue that virtual reality displays are not confined to our brains; they are life-sized, not miniaturized. Our visual perceptions are outside our skulls, just where they seem to be.

The philosopher David Chalmers has called the very existence of subjective experience the "hard problem" of consciousness because it defies explanation in terms of mechanisms. Even if we understand how eyes and brains respond to red light, for example, the quality of redness is still unaccounted for.

In biology and psychology the credit-rating of materialism is falling fast. Can physics inject new capital? Some materialists prefer to call themselves physicalists, to emphasize that their hopes depend on modern physics, not nineteenth-century theories of matter. But physicalism's credit-rating has been reduced by physics itself, for four reasons.

First, some physicists argue that quantum mechanics cannot be formulated without taking into account the minds of observers; hence minds cannot be reduced to physics, because physics presupposes minds

Second, the most ambitious unified theories of physical reality, superstring and M theories, with 10 and 11 dimensions respectively, take science into completely new territory. They are a very shaky foundation for materialism, physicalism or any other pre-established belief system. They are pointing somewhere new.

Third, the known kinds of matter and energy constitute only about 4% of the universe. The rest consists of dark matter and dark energy. The nature of 96% of reality is literally obscure.

Fourth, the cosmological anthropic principle asserts that if the laws and constants of nature had been slightly different at the moment of the Big Bang, biological life could never have emerged, and hence we would not be here to think about it. So did a divine mind fine-tune the laws and constants in the beginning? Some cosmologists prefer to believe that our universe is one of a vast, and perhaps infinite, number of parallel universes, all with different laws and constants. We just happen to exist in the one that has the right conditions for us.

In the eyes of skeptics, the multiverse theory is the ultimate violation of Occam's Razor, the principle that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. But even so, it does not succeed in getting rid of God. An infinite God could be the God of an infinite number of universes.

Here on Earth we are facing climate change, great economic uncertainty, and cuts in science funding. Confidence in materialism is draining away. Its leaders, like central bankers, keep printing promissory notes, but it has lost its credibility as the central dogma of science. Many scientists no longer want to be 100% invested in it.

Materialism's credit crunch changes everything. As science is liberated from this nineteenth-century ideology, new perspectives and possibilities will open up, not just for science, but for other areas of our culture that are dominated by materialism. And by giving up the pretence that the ultimate answers are already known, the sciences will be freer—and more fun.


ROGER HIGHFIELD
Editor, New Scientist; Coauthor, After Dolly

STAR POWER

Now this idea really will change everything, ending the energy crisis and curbing climate change at a stroke. I am confident in what I say because a lot of clever people have said it again and again—and again—for more than half a century. Since the heady, optimistic days when scientists first dreamt of taming the power of the Sun, fusion energy has remained tantalisingly out of reach.

It will take us between 20 and 50 years to build a fusion power plant. That is what glinty-eyed scientists announced at the height of the Cold War. Their modern equivalents are still saying it. And I am going to say it once again because it really could—and will—make a difference.

Fusion power could be a source of energy that would have a greater impact on humankind than landing the first man on the Moon. The reason is, as one former UK Government chief scientist liked to put it, that the lithium from one laptop battery and deuterium from a bath of water would generate enough energy to power a single citizen for 30 years. And, overall, fusion reactors would create fewer radioactive waste problems than their fission sisters.

The skeptics have always sneered that the proponents of fusion power are out of touch with reality. As the old joke goes, fusion is the power of the future—and it always will be. But this is one energy bet that must pay off, given the failure of the Kyoto Protocol.

There are good reasons to be hopeful. In Cadarache, France, construction is under way of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter means "the way" in Latin, though cynics carp that it can also mean "journey", and a bloody long one too). This project will mark a milestone in fusion development and there are other solid bets that are being placed, notably using high-power lasers to kick-start the fusion process.

Greens will complain that the money would be better spent on renewables but if this unfashionable gamble pays off the entire planet will be the winner. Imagine the patent squabbles when engineers finally figure out how to make fusion economic. Think of the seismic implications for energy research and alleviating poverty in the developing world. Consider the massive implications for holding back climate change. We are about to catch up with the receding horizon of fusion expectations.


ALUN ANDERSON
Senior Consultant (and former Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director of New Scientist)

GREEN OIL

Green oil is the development that will utterly change the world and it will arrive in the next few decades.

Oil that we take out of the ground and burn is going to be replaced by oil that we grow. Bio-fuels based on corn are our first effort to grow green oil but they have clearly not succeeded. Current bio-fuels take too much land and too much energy to grow and too much of that energy goes into building parts of a plant that we can't easily convert into fuel. The answer will come from simple, engineered organisms that can soak up energy in a vat in any sunny spot and turn that sunlight straight into a precursor for fuel, preferably a precursor that can go straight into an existing oil refinery that can turn out gasoline.

The impacts of such a development are staggering. The power balance of the world will be completely changed. Petro-dictatorships, where an endless flow of oil money keeps the population quiet, will no longer be able to look forward to oil at $50, $100, $150 and so on a barrel as oil supplies tighten. Power will be back in the hands of innovators rather than resource owners. The quest for dirty oil in remote and sensitive parts of the world, whether the Arctic or the Alberta tar sands, will not make economic sense and the environment will gain. The burning of gasoline in automobiles will no longer add much to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the fuel will have soaked up an almost equal amount of carbon dioxide while it was being grown. The existing networks for delivering fuel to transportation (the 100,000 gas station in the US for example) won't become redundant as they would if we switched to electric autos, making plans for cutting emissions much less difficult.

Will the green oil come from algae, bacteria, archaea or something else? I don't know. Oil is a natural product arising from the transformation of plant material created by the capture of light. As it is a transformation in nature we can replicate it, not necessarily directly, but to arrive at a similar result. It is not magic.

Scientists around the world have seen the prize and hundreds of millions are going into start-up companies. There is a nice twist to this line of investment. Despite the ups and downs, the long-term trend for the price of oil is up. That means the size of the prize for replacing oil is going up while the size of the challenge is going down. Replacing $20-a-barrel oil would be difficult but replacing $100 oil is much easier.

There is an old saying: "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stone. Someone came up with a better idea". The better idea is coming.


PATRICK BATESON
Professor of Ethology, Cambridge University; Author Design for a Life

ADOPTING RATIONALITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

"The power set free from the atom has changed everything, except our ways of thinking." So said Einstein. Whether or not he foresaw the total destruction of the world, the thought gave rise to a joke, albeit a sick one, that humans would never make contact with civilizations in other parts of the universe. Either those civilizations were not advanced enough to decode our signals or they were more advanced than us, had developed nuclear weapons and had destroyed themselves. The chances would be vanishingly small that their brief window of time between technological competence and oblivion would coincide with ours.

I never understood the policy of deterrence that justified the nuclear arms race. The coherence of such a view depended utterly on the maintenance of human rationality. Suppose that people whose concern for personal safety or thought for others was subordinated to religious or ideological belief ruled a country in possession of nuclear weapons. The whole notion of deterrence collapses.

I usually regard myself as an optimist. Tomorrow will be better than to-day. My naïve confidence has been dented by advancing age and by the growing number of reality checks that point to trouble ahead. Even if the red mists of anger or insanity do not unleash the total destruction of our way of life, the prognosis for the survival of human civilization is not good. However much we believe in technical fixes that will overcome the problems of diminishing resources, the planet is likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who inhabit it and by the conceit that economic growth for everybody is the only route to well-being. The uncontrolled greed of the developed world has taken a sharp knock in the recent credit crunch, but how do you persuade affluent people to accept an overall reduction in their standard of living? Which government of any stripe is going to risk its future by enforcing the unpopular policies that are already needed? On this front the prognosis might not be too bad since crises do bring about change.

The Yom Kippur war of 1973 led to a dramatic reduction in the oil supply and, in the UK, petrol rationing was swiftly introduced and everybody was required to save fuel by driving no more than 50 mph. The restraint disappeared, of course, as soon as the oil started to flow again, but the experience showed that people will uncomplainingly change their behavior when they are required to do so and understand the justification.

Growth of the human population must be one of the major threats to sustainability of resources such as drinking water and food. Here again the prognosis does not have to be wholly bad if far-sighted wisdom prevailed. If the GDP of each country of the world is plotted on graph paper against average family size in that country, the correlation is almost perfectly negative. (The outliers provided by rich countries with large average family sizes are almost exclusively those places in which women are treated badly.) The evidence suggests that if we wished to take steps to reduce population growth, every effort should be made to boost the GDP of the poorest countries of the world. This is an example were economic growth in some countries and overall benefit to the world could proceed hand in hand, but the richest countries would have to pay the price.

Another darker thought is that human population might be curbed by its own stupidity and cupidity. I am not now thinking of conflict but of the way in which endocrine disruptors are poured unchecked into the environment. Suddenly males might be feminized by the countless number of artificial products that simulate the action of female hormone. Sufficiently so that reproduction becomes impossible. For some the irony would be delicious. The ultimate feed-back mechanism, unforeseen by Malthus, that places a limit on the growth of the human population.

Sustainability is the goal that we pass onto the next generation the resources (or some equivalent) that we received from our forbears. It may be a pipe dream, given the way we think.

 


DAVID GELERNTER
Computer Scientist, Yale University; Chief Scientist, Mirror Worlds Technologies; Author, Drawing Life

TRACKS & CLUSTERS

What will change everything? The replacement of 90% of America's teachers at every level with parent-chosen, cloud-resident "learning tracks"; the end of conventional centralized, age-stratified schools & their replacement by local cluster-rooms where a few dozen children of all ages & IQs gather under the supervision of any trustworthy adult; where each child follows his own "learning track" at his own level & rate, but all kids in the cluster do playtime and gym-type activities together.

Thus primary & secondary education becomes radically localized & delocalized simultaneously. All children go to a nearby cluster room, & mix there with other children of all ages & interests from this neighborhood: radical localization (or re-localization, the return of the little red schoolhouse). But each child follows a learning-track prepared & presented by the best teachers and thinkers anywhere in the nation or the world. Local schools become cheap and flexible (doesn't matter whether 10 children or 50 show up, so long as there are enough machines to go around--& that will be easy). Perhaps 80+ % of school funding goes straight to the production of learning tracks, which accumulate in a growing worldwide library.

This inversion of education has bad properties as well as good: it's much easier to learn from a good teacher face-to-face than from any kind of software. But the replacement of schools by tracks-and-clusters is the inevitable, unstoppable, take-it-or-leave-it response to educational collapse in the US. "A nation at risk" appeared in 1983. Americans have known for a full generation that their schools are collapsing—& have failed even to make a dent in the problem. If anything, today's schools are worse than 1983's. Tracks-&-clusters is no perfect solution—but radical change is coming, & cloud-based, parent-chosen tracks with local cluster-rooms are all but inevitable as the (radical) next step.

None of today's software frameworks for online learning is adequate. New software must make it easy for parents & children to see & evaluate each track as a whole, give learners control over learning, integrate multimedia smoothly, include students in a net-wide discussion of each topic & put them in touch with (human) teachers as needed. Must also make it easy for parents & "guidance teachers" to evaluate each child's progress. It's all easily done with current technology—if software design is taken seriously.

Any person or group can offer a learning track at any level, on any topic. The usual consumer-evaluation mechanisms will help parents & students choose: government & private organizations will review learning tracks, comment & mark them "approved" or not. Suggested curricula will proliferate on the net. Anybody will be free to offer his services as a personal learning consultant.

Track-and-clusters poses many problems (& suggests many solutions). It represents the inevitable direction of education in the US not because it solves every problem, but because the current system is intellectually bankrupt—not merely today's schools & school districts but the whole system of government funding, local school boards & budget votes, approved textbooks., nation-wide educational fads & so on. It's all ripe for the trash, & on its way out. US schools will change radically because (& only because) they must change radically. Ten years from now the move to clusters-&-tracks will be well underway.

 


MONICA NARULA
Artist, New Delhi; Member, Raqs Media Collective; Co-Initiator, Sarai.net

THE LENGTHENING LIFE-SPANS OF INDIVIDUALS SHADOWED BY THE SHORTENING LIFE-SPANS OF SPECIES


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