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BBC Future World Changing Ideas Summit

Date: 27-10-2014
Author: Sam Totham

For anyone not familiar with BBC Future, it is a by-product of the main BBC website containing news stories and talks related to new technology, science discoveries and health developments. It aims to highlight potentially overlooked new stories and investigate the people behind them.

It features ‘Columns’, which are running general categories or series of news and talks. One of the most popular series on the Future site is the World Changing Ideas column. It focuses on innovative views and ideas for transforming our future, with various leading minds tackling challenges found in science and technology.

The content of World Changing Ideas is varied and unpredictable, with topics including:

On 21st October 2014, BBC Future held the first World Changing Ideas Summit in New York. Top scientific and technology field speakers discussed challenges and breakthroughs. See a full list of speakers and topics on the World Changing Ideas Summit website.

A story I found particularly interesting from the Summit relates to technology influencing education. There seems to be a trend (mostly among older people…) in thinking that using technology means that you don’t have to learn or memorise data, so therefore people will have a huge variety of knowledge at their disposal but will actually know very little. However, recent evidence seems to suggest that the opposite of this is actually prevalent, technology that is aimed at finding and exploiting new ways to help us learn and memorise information are on the rise. Duolingo, an app that helps people learn foreign languages through easy to understand games, has over 40 million users and that is only one example. The app is easy to use and does not require hours of use per day, aiming instead to rely on memorable games and interactive choices.

Technology can be used to identify how we absorb information and memorise it most effectively and therefore individually target different techniques at different people. This could potentially be used to help special needs children and adults that in the past suffered from a lack of sufficient education due to conventional schools inability to relate to them.

Even video games are contributing to improvements, creating interfaces that people will stay focused on for hours at a time (I can personally vouch for that), and so, with a few modifications, why couldn’t these games educate children simultaneously? Google’s vice president of research Alfred Spector spoke at the Summit for the potential for increased technology contribution to education to render schools obsolete. “In the past it seemed you had to go to a school to get formal education – there was no choice but to go to isolated places to be educated, but now we don’t have to do that. We may choose to but we don’t have to.” Now maybe children will get the opportunity to choose what interests them most through an individual tutor, and then be able to learn and investigate these topics at their own rate with methods personalised to their learning style.

Of course, computers cannot teach everything, personality traits and morality are trickier issues. Nevertheless, this definitely displays the amazing potential for education advancement in the near future.

Find out more on the BBC Future website and read more about this article here.

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