Aha! So That’s What Social Media Is For!

Cringely recently ran a piece asking what his readers think the next world-changing technology. He then ran one with his ideas, which are:

I think our next frontier should be a combination of additive manufacturing and autonomous flight… Additive manufacturing is in the middle of a revolution that within a decade will have usable devices appearing in volume and at competitive prices from backyard sheds and sold into local commerce…

…What qualifies autonomous flight as a good frontier is that it fits beautifully in the traditional frontier paradigms of population expansion and steadily increasing property values. American frontiers, as I wrote earlier this week, have long been paid for with free or inexpensive land…

Powerful ideas, particularly additive manufacturing. But this feels a bit too much like so many pronouncements of yesteryear on what ‘the future’ will look like. They’re always wrong. And they’re always wrong because they are about technology and the future is shaped by economics.

His point about flight reducing land values (possible… I suppose) is close. But the most powerful idea in economics is that incentivized individuals collaborating privately produce astounding things.

And technology pronouncements are about the things we DO think of, which means we need to think about the meta-process that produces technology. That means (to me) that the real future will be shaped by the revolution that is starting in education.

Consider this HN discussion:

TITLE: Best approach for self-taught developer looking for job?
Comment 1: Pulled up your github account. Aside from you accidentally adding your home directory, you’re making good progress. If you’re looking to get a job quickly, I’d encourage you to focus on one area and I think your shortest path is the front end technologies. Pretty much every firm I know of in NYC is hiring front end developers and the main limitation is finding people who actually know javascript…

And you can demonstrate it by sticking something on github

Prove yourself on Github and you suddenly have absolutely no need for a college degree. Even today I’d argue that there’s nothing you can achieve in a college liberal arts program you can’t do with a blog (implying an Internet connection as well) and a library card. That is to say, more or less for free.

This cuts to the heart of what an education is, which is two things: learning things and proving it. The reason why people don’t go to Wikipedia University isn’t that you can’t learn anything there, it’s that you can’t prove you learned it. It’s too easy to misjudge competence: even losers can look and sound like they know what they’re doing. The signaling aspect of ‘going to Harvard’ gets around this problem. But messily. And for so very few.

Now that’s changing. If you can demonstrate real domain competence in an open environment, suddenly the dual-power of a University (giving not just knowledge but also a piece of paper that proves it) is broken.

Michael Nielsen is getting close to what I’m thinking of in pushing for collaborative science. I’m imagining a Github for all worthwhile public goods in all scientific disciplines, but not as an output, as an input. Eventually all scientists will grow up sharing everything they do online. Those Githubs will be their training grounds. The universities of the future.

And they’re free.

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