Tensions in technology and ethics

Children born today could live until they are 150. I learnt this startling fact last week from Megan Smith, Vice President of Google, who makes it her business to think about the future. Megan was a member of a panel of speakers who visited our school as part of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (@svc2uk) to inspire our students about the world of entrepreneurship.

But what is entrepreneurship? Living in a city which boasts its very own Silicon Fen, we live cheek by jowl with a very successful community of entrepreneurs. However, SVC2UK taught me that entrepreneurship is not about place but rather about a way of thinking; it is about collaboration and creativity; and it is about presenting a solution when the time is right. Apple of course offers a perfect model of this, creating technology which is truly transformational in our society. Yet our recent history shows that technological innovation is moving at a pace which suggests the great innovators of today can very quickly become the Clive Sinclairs of yesterday.

It strikes me that in a constantly changing world characterised by uncertainty and disruption, there will be extraordinary opportunities for our young people. It is now a cliché that the notion of a career for life is no more. The possibilities opening up – particularly if the average life span is significantly longer – are only limited by imagination and creativity. Yet potentially this generation faces a brave new world where there will be increasing tension between technology and ethics. For example, the technology exists to facilitate the birth of “designer babies”. Does this make the engineering of ‘designer babies’ right? As the science around robotics evolves, at what point will there be laws governing the rights of robots? Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot” really is coming closer to reality. 

As educators today we are charged with educating our young people for this world of unknowns. The challenges are such that unless we free ourselves from a traditional model of schooling, with a utilitarian curriculum focusing on measuring rather than inspiring our young people, we will fail them. In our school the student is placed at the heart of the educational experience. We have devised a curriculum which encourages breadth and a trans-disciplinary approach. We challenge our students to break down artificial intellectual barriers and this opens up pathways to innovation and creativity. 

We also believe that, in partnership with parents, we should build character. This is nothing new. As Aristotle commented: “Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids”. In a world where schools often shy away from discussing character, for a range of understandable reasons, we need to accept that what the ancients knew mattered. How can the generation tasked with living their life in this age of unknowns thrive without a strong sense of moral purpose? 

Which brings me back to SVC2UK. Their vision of the future and what might be is truly inspiring. Our vision of education needs to be equally inspiring to support the learning of our young people for their lives as centurions.

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