How much will be left?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

Technology always changes the landscape of human life, or beyond. Technology had been penetrating near space, like the moon, since the ’60s. Technology then penetrated the collective consciousness with the Internet in the ’90s. Today, technology is already showing signs that it will be shifting with explosive speed using 5G, with the Internet of Things (IoT), and with Artificial Intelligence. The private sector is investing in outer space and whatever economies can be built there in the future. Meanwhile, a few nations are deep into military hardware and software, intending to outpace rival nations, and has enough armaments today to kill every human being on earth.

I saw on the Internet how France celebrated Bastille Day, a major historical and political event that marks the revolution of the common man against royalty. That was 230 years ago. Imagine what it was like then with kings and serfs, and how the storming of the Bastille (a fortress/prison) quickly triggered the death of feudalism in France. Yes, it was a bloody and messy process, but quite impactful for the whole French nation. With that historical backdrop, I watched how the celebration just two weeks ago did not only remind France of the past but gave its citizens and the rest of the world a glimpse of the future.

Was it Superman, or Spiderman? It was neither, but it sure looked like a superhero was flying overhead the crowd watching the celebratory parade. There was someone hovering above the clouds riding a flying board instead of a skateboard. Imagine a skateboard propelled by a small engine that could make both the device and one person fly within everybody’s eyesight. When I saw the video clip, what I immediately thought of was that the future is here, ahead of its schedule. If a flying board is past its initial experimentation enough to carry a man hundreds of feet above the ground, it is easy to imagine highways without roads and cars, just people carried by flying boards.

If France demonstrated to the world that it has the technology to make flying boards, then we can assume that France has more than it is showing. And the same goes for other nations, especially the United States, Russia, and China. What else do they have that are still under wraps? What we are seeing is what they are willing to show the world, knowing the rest of the world will copy it. What they do not want to be copied is secret, and what is secret is way advanced what we know. Already out there is a technology world that is decades ahead of what we see and know of. What is out there is what will be just normal when our K to 12 students step out of high school.

What is out there that is in the experimental stage, in the prototyping stage, in the pre-commercial stage? We don’t really know unless we go out of our way to catch the scent, to get glimpses through articles and the moves of global-leading companies. There is Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Elon Musk, and every giant in every country. All of them are in a race, not just for profits, but for the profits of the future.

In the Philippines, we only recently established government agencies that focus on information technology. Much has been said about a third telco which is supposed to disrupt a duopoly. People are thinking about spreading the income, not advancing technology. The government wants the Internet available to more Filipinos, the same Internet that has been active since the ’70s. That means technology that developed in the ’60s and ’70s, that has been upgrading itself by leaps and bounds since then, will just become available to the poorer sectors of the country. That is how far behind we are. Sad. Because the Internet is not just a technology, it is now a driver of human lifestyles.

Not just sad but now more alarming – that if maybe 40% of our people will only begin to use the Internet, what happens to whole generations of students? What are they taught, how are they taught? Are they teaching what is out there today that becomes obsolete before K – 12 students finish? Are they teaching what will be out there in 2030, in 2040? Do education officials have an idea of what kind of technological world it will become in 10 to 20 years? If they have no idea, they cannot adjust a traditional curriculum taught in a traditional format to prepare our youngest generations.

I cannot only worry about education officials who cannot intuit and process the consciousness of generations younger than them. After all, the government is not only about education. The future is not only about roads and railways, but the world is also about what we know and does not know. Unless we go into war using traditional weaponry and strategy, our survival in all dimensions is dependent on what we know and what we are willing to do with that knowledge. Of course, there are easier paths. We can simply become the laborers of countries who will pay for workers with low skill levels if Artificial Intelligence will allow it. We can simply become the servants of those who know more, have more, and use them smartly.

I look at our present challenges and they have little to do with preparing our citizens and nation for a world beyond our borders. We are still trying to raise tens of millions from poverty – which means homelessness and hunger. We are still trying to defeat an insurgency. We have yet to see Muslim Mindanao succeed in their effort at autonomous governance. We are struggling with illegal drugs and its capacity to corrupt governance itself at many levels. We still do not know whether we stay in one form of governance or shift to another. I wonder how much will be left in the struggle to build the firm foundation of our future?

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