This week we celebrate World Internet Day which gives us a moment to celebrate this remarkable innovation that has accelerated change and opportunity in the world like nothing that has ever come before it (with the possible exception of the microprocessor although connecting them together makes them exponentially more valuable as per Metcalfe’s Law).
There are many reasons the internet is wonderful, but today I want to focus on what I believe is the most important one. The internet is going to save the world for one simple reason: because it will make education free.
Why is this vitally important? Because more educated people make better decisions which leads to happier and healthier lives not only for themselves but for the world as a whole.
I believe that the human race, while more prosperous that ever, is in trouble. We are increasingly divided as a species and this situation is only getting worse. This lack of cohesion is then leading to our existential problems as a species, the most obvious one being our planet which we are destroying at a rapid rate. It’s easy to say social media is responsible for the hatred and division and no doubt it fuels it, but the lack of education is the underlying problem. When an obviously evil or incompetent politician gets voted in for a second term (not mentioning any names here…!), the problem, at its core, is education. Evil people are more likely to be able to manipulate those that cannot think critically. A good example is speech which supposedly incites violence. Here is a fact: words do not cause physical harm. Words are sound waves that cannot do any physical damage at the volume humans can utter them. The harm comes from people who choose, poorly, to act on these words. People who choose to harm because of words are doing so by choice and largely, in my opinion, because of a poor choice which is as a result of a lack of critical thinking. Violence is almost never the best solution and educated people are less likely to choose it. More educated people simply make better decisions, they tend to be more self aware, it seems to me that they also tend to be kinder and my goodness we could use a lot more of that in the world today. To be clear, I’m not seeking a world where everyone agrees with me, that would be boring and progress would be slow. I want a world where we can discuss facts rationally between two sides and agree on outcomes that are for the benefit of everyone without resorting to irrationality and name calling. Kindness.
So how will the internet make education free? Simply because the marginal cost of the distribution knowledge is now zero. Literally anything you want to learn is available online for free if you are prepared to work for it. The only thing we are really paying for is the piece of paper at the end and of course the teaching experience, which is incredibly valuable, but is not actually a necessity for education and it will soon be able to be surpassed as a cost barrier. Imagine the best teacher in the world at teaching Pythagoras’s theorem. Why wouldn’t we film her, learn her great technique with an AI, and then put a high resolution avatar of her in a virtual classroom and suddenly that talented teacher can teach an infinite number of students whenever and wherever they want to learn. Zero marginal cost of knowledge distribution.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers will always be valuable because it will be a long time, if ever, before AI can teach at the quality of a great educator. But the AI will get very close and teachers will instead be used by the rich and to teach the AI whilst the rest of us can learn whatever we want at a 95% quality level for no money.
I genuinely believe that the most important thing we can do as a society is accelerate this change. I just don’t see another way of rescuing ourselves from our impending disaster (short of a mass extinction event which wipes out 99% of the earth’s population and forces a great reset). I choose option A and I choose to fight every day to make education more accessible to more people, more often. I do this because I want to see a world where every person has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Can you imagine how amazing this world would be? Humans are already amazing and yet way less than half of us are educated enough to be making any form of contribution beyond our own survival. Imagine what could happen if we gave every single person on this plane the opportunity to be everything they could be. To invent and innovate freely with the amazing brain they have on their heads. The only thing that stands in the way of that is education. I get excited just thinking about it.
As we celebrate all that is the internet, I ask each of you to play whatever role you can in accelerating our educated future. We still have a fair way to go before this is our reality, but we absolutely have to get there. The lives of our children and their children most certainly depend on it.
– Rob Stokes, Chairman of The Knowledge Trust