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Why Cell Phones Will Kill the Public Schools Before 2040

Gary North - January 24, 2014
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The Ron Paul Curriculum is 100% digital. It does not use classrooms. It does not require parents to buy any textbooks. It is the wave of the future -- the not too far-distant future.

This is because of Moore's law: computer chip density doubles every 18 months. That was in 1965, when Gordon Moore of Intel made this observation. Today, it's close to every 12 months.

I take seriously Ray Kurzweil's estimates on information costs. His article on the law of accelerating returns (2001) is a classic. It has influenced my thinking.

Moore's law is accelerating. Kurzweil wrote this in 2001:

In line with my earlier predictions, supercomputers will achieve one human brain capacity by 2010, and personal computers will do so by around 2020. By 2030, it will take a village of human brains (around a thousand) to match $1000 of computing. By 2050, $1000 of computing will equal the processing power of all human brains on Earth.

What will a public school teach a student who owns a computer as powerful as Hillary Clinton's village? What if this computer is a cell phone?

What will a public school teach 2,000 students in 2030? What will be the range of student performance? When the top 20% are equipped with this tool, what will the curriculum look like? What teacher will be bright enough to teach such students? A smartphone app will be a better teacher by far than whoever is in the classroom.

What will that teacher do for a living? Not teach. Monitor. Enforce discipline. Schools will be warehousing operations. Everyone will know this. They will be for the disciplinary problems.

How will these people train the best and the brightest for the brave new world of digital production?

The exodus will begin.


What kind of job market will a college graduate face in 2030?

Think of health care, a major segment of our aging economy. What is it today?

Kurzweil today says this. ". . . we can now fix a broken heart -- not (yet) from romance -- but from a heart attack, by rejuvenating the heart with reprogrammed stem cells."

Health and medicine is now an information technology and is therefore subject to what I call the "law of accelerating returns," which is a doubling of capability (for the same cost) about each year that applies to any information technology.

As a result, technologies to reprogram the "software" that underlie human biology are already a thousand times more powerful than they were when the genome project was completed in 2003, and will again be a thousand times more powerful than they are today in a decade, and a million times more powerful in two decades.

This will play havoc with Social Security's statistics. Medicare's, too.

What about energy?

By 2030 solar energy will have the capacity to meet all of our energy needs. The production of food and clean water will also be revolutionized.

If we could capture one part in ten thousand of the sunlight that falls on the Earth we could meet 100% of our energy needs, using this renewable and environmentally friendly source.

As we apply new molecular scale technologies to solar panels, the cost per watt is coming down rapidly. Already Deutsche Bank, in a recent report, wrote "The cost of unsubsidized solar power is about the same as the cost of electricity from the grid in India and Italy. By 2014 even more countries will achieve solar 'grid parity.'"

The total number of watts of electricity produced by solar energy is growing exponentially, doubling every two years.

It will have to. But if he is correct, then there is light at the end of the tunnel -- not a major breakthrough, but one based on Moore's law.

Similar approaches will address other resource needs. Once we have inexpensive energy we can readily and inexpensively convert the vast amount of dirty and salinated water we have on the planet to usable water.

We are also headed towards another agriculture revolution, from horizontal agriculture to vertical agriculture, where we grow very high quality food in AI controlled buildings.

These will recycle all nutrients and end the ecological disaster that constitutes contemporary factory farming. This will include hydroponic plants for fruits and vegetables and in vitro cloning of muscle tissue for meat, that is meat without animals, thereby ending animal suffering.

This technology will drive food costs down. This will make life easier for a billion poor people. If they can get solar panels, cheap digital education, clean water, and cheap food, the blight of poverty will end. When? If it takes 40 years, so what?

By the early 2020s we will print out a significant fraction of the products we use including clothing as well as replacement organs. . . . For example, in the early 2020s, you'll have a choice of many thousands of cool clothing designs that are open source and that can be printed out for pennies a pound.


Think of a public school classroom. How will some union-protected teacher with an M.A. in education compete with this?

Within five years, search engines will be based on an understanding of natural language.

Consider that IBM's Watson got a higher score on the American television game of Jeopardy than the best two human players combined.

Jeopardy is a broad task involving complicated natural language queries which include puns, riddles, jokes and metaphors.

For example, Watson got this query correct in the rhyme category: "A long tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping." It correctly responded "What is a meringue harangue."

What is not widely appreciated is that Watson got its knowledge by reading Wikipedia and several other encyclopedias, a total of 200 million pages of natural language documents.

What will schools teach, if a cheap computer can access all this? Think of a slide rule facing a $25 engineering calculator -- or a free one on the Web.

Formal education in 2040 will teach first principles -- worldview, in other words. Parents will select online schools based on their own worldviews. They cannot easily do this today. But costs are falling. The content of the curriculum will matter far more than it does today, once it becomes clear to parents that students enrolled in a public school are being short-changed academically. They will move to low-cost online education.

I remember a young woman in 1980. She had paid a lot of money to attend a private Christian college. She majored in computers. They taught her punch card technology. She went to work as a low-paid chef.

What will public schools teach? If schools teach technology, their education will become obsolete rapidly. Teachers cannot keep up with their students today. "There's an app for that!" Maybe in will be called high school 2.0. Maybe it will be "faculty in a box."

When the Ivy League's entire curricula are online for free, what will a local public high school bring to the table for the top 20% academically?

Put differently, "classrooms are replaceable."

The case for public education will be this: free babysitting. That will be the end of the messianic character of American education. America's only established church today will become little more than crowd control. Only academic losers will be in the classrooms -- either as teachers or students. Families with money will not send their children into these warehouses. When these schools are at last seen as warehousing operations, the bloom will be off the rose. There will be an exodus by the most intelligent students. Their parents will pull them out. Peer pressure on parents will be too great.

When they depart, the hole in the dike will get larger. There will be a tipping point. Then the whole structure will collapse.

How can a school in rural India compete against this? How can your local high school compete today?

Remove the public schools for the upper 20%, and the establishment loses its lever.

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