How governments can think unthinkable

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Were terrorist attacks, financial crises, natural disasters, and epidemics the world faced all unforeseeable events, or merely huge failures of humankind to think the unthinkable?

Speaking at the opening day of the 4th World Government Summit (WGS 2016) on "How governments get ready for the unthinkable", Peter Schwartz, an American futurist, innovator, author, and co-founder of the Global Business Network, addressed the fundamental question of why humans fail to anticipate the future and questioned whether governments can take preemptive measures to prepare for the future.
 
Despite the world becoming more connected and more advanced, governments still encounter surprises. However, Schwartz challenged world governments by stating that these events, such as the collapse of Soviet Union, as well as the September 11 attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis were all events that were foreseeable. The American futurist claimed that these events were "failure of imagination, not failure of prediction the signals for surprise are out there and they can be seen."
 
The innovator emphasized that in order to anticipate the future and avoid fatal error, acting in advance in a timely manner is imperative. "Yet, this is not enough to just see the future. The government must act upon it. Governments fail to prevent disasters from occurring primarily because they do not take immediate measures to change the course of future. It is important for governments to take on two essential tools for thinking about surprises: rigorous analysis and imagination."
 
Schwartz further pointed out that most governments are captured by the present moment and do not ask the right questions, such as what do we do and can we prevent outcomes from happening? In some cases, government officials are overly confident about the future and make the error of not seeing the whole story and "only a slice of it."
 
He added that opinions must be diversified and indicators must be spotted in advance to track what has unfolded. Schwartz noted there are indeed governments that have good conversations amongst the country’s leaders that take notion of surprise easily. The UAE, France, UK, and Holland were among the few that he listed.
 
In a world where humans may become biologically, genetically and medically enhanced and neural control is already achieved, Peter Schwartz stressed: "We can see these surprises coming if we do our homework and do our thinking in a rigorous manner. If we take the surprise in a serious way, we can get our government to avoid being trapped in uncertainties."

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson, who teaches AP science in a school in Montana in the United States, explained to the audience gathered at the fourth World Government Summit (WGS 2016) how classroom game design helps improve learning.

Andersen said: “For all those years of my teaching I was standing in front of the classroom, I thought how could I be that teacher at the mentor level and scale that classroom level, where everyone is engaged.

“The answer lay in video games – a fun way to learn. Students were bored in class but were totally engaged in a video game. Video isn’t a teacher, it’s just one dimensional, a new type of book.

“There is no difference in the two, so I took games to redesign my classroom. We are using gaming in the classroom. There is a lot of buzz about gamification and I wanted to use it to redefine the classroom teaching.

“I did not prepare my kids to learn how to learn. My classroom looked like a school bus - some kids fell behind while some raced ahead and some crashed. Also, I realized I was not receiving feedback from students.

“What does the future classroom look like? It is not going to look like one person in front doing all the talking.

“In the future classroom, technology will play a very important role. It will allow me to be in more than one place at than same time. It also impacts the scales of teaching. I have created 100 videos and put them on YouTube to be watched by thousands and accessible to all, even deaf students.

“Technology also motivates. It is the best way to connect to other people.

Dr Derek Muller: How is social media transforming future of education?

Dr Derek Muller said: “I started making a channel a few years ago. I had no plan. I did it for the love of teaching. I was always a teacher. It wasn’t a job. It was a way of being. I am willing to do whatever it takes to make people learn. Including making a fool of myself. Now, there are dozens of creators, teachers who have a medium and are excited to share it with the world

“There’s always been talk about changing the way education happens… about revolutionalizing education.

“In 1922, Thomas Edison said motion picture will revolutionise education. He was obviously wrong… we still have books. But motion pictures have revolutionalised our lives, but not our education.

“In the 1930s, they spoke about replacing teachers with radios. It would’ve helped government who worry about cutting down big budgets on education. Move to the 1950s, there was a study on if students preferred live lecture or a room with a TV that relays the lecture. The studies showed no significant difference. It showed technology makes virtually no difference.

“Why did so many predictions fail? Because education is not a commodity to be delivered to students.

“With computers, people really thought we were on to something. If we teach kids to code, then their logic will better. This isn’t one-way, this was more interactive.

“I want to stand here as a voice of caution. The future of education is not one about revolution. We are always looking for an easy, cheaper solution.

“We engage with our friends, with our families… we form memories… this is what develops our personality.

“Education is a social process. Students will continue to connect with teachers who are their role models.

“Future is not kids watching YouTube videos.

“Our tools change, but our core doesn’t. The social interaction between the teacher and the students will not change.

“The best social interaction is the narrative. It helps us more to remember.

“Social media will transform education, not with the delivery of the information, but what students will do with the information. Teachers will work with the students to leverage information.

“Social media will be the tool used by students to make an impact. To make their own world.

“This is just the beginning. We are on the tip of the iceberg.

“Educators of today need to be involved in training and re-training. When I finished college, YouTube didn’t exist. We need to prepare teachers and students in a different way… to adopt to the new world,” said Dr Muller.

Tim O’Reilly: Consumers will dictate what governments must do

Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, said governments need to adopt best technology practices. They must also open data to all citizens for user engagement.

“Government at its best must act like a platform. Government does not deliver every service that is intended for its citizens. Builds highways but not what goes at its end. A great example is iPhone, which was introduced in 2007. There were 10 or 20 apps. And in 2008, Apple did something remarkable and opened it to others to build apps. This is actually not new to governments.

“GPS, which  was originally developed for the military, is now open to all citizens. Sat nav, Uber… this is government at its best.

“President Obama’s focus is on open data, particularly in departments like health.

“Amazon is the best e-commerce success story where a platform beats an application at all times.

“Government is designed to look out for technology that’s best for everyone. Where government becomes a platform for the society as a whole.

“The market does not always make the right decision. We need leaders to do that. The government must control the narrative.

“We need to stop thinking about jobs, but think about work,” said O’Reilly.

We need to empower workers with technology, and not get rid of them.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: Dubai is city of future we were dreaming about in 60s

“The science of today [should be seen] as being the mother of technology of tomorrow,” said Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson,Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, in his session titled 'Session: Science of Today, Technology of Tomorrow'.

He said that any nations or governments that want to lead rather than follow must necessarily allocate funds for scientific research.

“The actual challenge is pure explorations,” he said.

He highlighted that, in the past, it was the traditional industries – farming industry fishing etc. – that kept countries and economies going. “Scientific discovery has, however, changed things and fast-forwarded the growth of economies,” he noted.

“And it has not been accidental,” he added. “Governments have funded research that has been going on in laboratories,” he said. That’s what will continue to shape the future, he said.

Prof. Tyson said that the 1960s, when he was growing up, was the time of technological hope.

“I was six when I visited the New York fair,” he said. “It was all about tomorrow. We were all dreaming about the future.”

He noted that his current trip to Dubai is his first to the region. “And landing here in the city reminds me of a city that is the city of future that we were dreaming as the city of the future in the 1960s,” he said.

“Tall buildings that looks like space ships,” he said referring to Dubai’s tall buildings.

Talking about the importance of science and innovation, he said that countries are proud to show-off their achievements.

“Recently, Canada redesigned its $5 note, replacing hockey with a space station… this proves the country being proud of scientific and technological achievements,” he gave as an example.

“What country comes to our mind when we think of scientific advancements and engineering,” he asked.

“Germany,” he said.

“The Bell Curve – the Galician curve – is now part of the currency note,” Prof. Tyson said. “So, mathematics is on it [currency], which shows how nations want to share the spirit of exploration and discovery with its people.”

Reminding the audience of the historical Arab position in science, Prof. Tyson said: “If you notice the names of stars… I noticed that nearly all of them were Arabic.”

He added: “I recognised what all of my colleagues know. That was the role of Arabic science. Two-thirds of all stars that have names have Arabic names.”

“How did that occur,” he asked. “In the desert, there are no clouds and you need stars to navigate,” he explained. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

He went on to add that the word ‘algebra’, ‘algorith’ is an Arabic word ‘al-jabr’, meaning reunion of broken parts.

“I can tell you if that pace of discovery had continued in the 20th Century… If that golden era had continued… given how many Muslims are in the world... somewhere around 1.5 billion or higher, then Muslims would have bagged every single Nobel Prize that could have been awarded,” he said.

“Then I compiled the list of every single Muslim who has won the Nobel Prize in science and economics… and the number is just three. Zero in biomedicals,” he lamented.

“What happened?”

“This has to change,” he said. “I lose sleep at night dreaming of what is yet to be discovered”.

Remembering the ‘golden era’ of technology, prof. Tyson said: “Back then we were planning to go to the moon. Yes, we went to the moon. And the New York Times celebrated with its largest headlines in terms of typeface. The second largest headline – 1mm smaller – was when Obama won the first presidency.”

He added: “We went to the moon and we discovered the earth. Two years later, in 1970, the National Oceanic Society was founded. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded. Although we had many distractions - cold war, assassinations, etc., it was not that we did not face problems.

“But after that photo of the earth from the moon was published, we started thinking more about the earth.”

“Some people say they don’t think we went to the moon.” He said. “Where else do you think this thing went? It was a 32-storey rocket!”

“The technology of today is nano technology... but we can ask what is the technology of tomorrow, the science of tomorrow?”

“I remembered the world's fair in New York,” he said. “Maybe the time has come to resurrect the time of exploration,” he said.

“This [Dubai] is the city of tomorrow, the city of resurrection. We know of the planned visit to Mars. Space is quite potent. Space will produce the first trillionaires,” he said.

Talking about R&D into future, he said that the US was fading, while Japan and South Korea were “even larger”.

He added: “Brazil is growing. I will come back in 2020. The Mars mission is one of them. By 2020, the Arabian Peninsula will be growing. The investments in science is crucial.”

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