Will Technology Save Us @ the Design Museum

The above video from Superflux captures our mixed feelings about tech - of love crossed with anxiety. Like these drone prototypes, tech is shaking up entire industries, from advertising to the press to policing. Superflux Founder Anab Jain was one of the speakers at the Design Museum event last week, 'Will Technology Save Us?'.

One of the main topics of conversation on the panel, a timely one coming just before the election, was how education in particular is adapting.

The main gist was that our relationship with tech has become too passive, and various methods are now in place to make sure Britain has the future tech skills that are growing more and more important. Companies like speaker Bethany Coby's Technology Will Save Us are a case in point.

With shades of the BBC Micro computer of the 80s, Howard Baker from BBC Education spoke about how the Beeb is also doing its part by giving a Micro Bit mini-computer to every year 7 pupil across the UK. On trend with one of the year's top tech buzzwords, the Micro Bit will also be wearable.

Howard made the point that though the new hands on, practical focus around coding in education is a big leap forward compared to the bad old days of ICT, the risk is it becomes just another boring, compartmentalised element of the curriculum. Also, the fact that not just ICT teachers, but all primary school teachers are being required to teach code is a daunting one to say the least.

The debate went on to cover the siloed education point in greater detail, a member of the audience saying that computing and design should be taught more closely together. And even that the traditional subject grouping of STEM (science, tech, engineering, maths) could become STEAM to incorporate art.

Alongside that, Teleri Lloyd Jones of Crafts Magazine gave a fascinating case of the effects of bringing technical and creative skills together - Parallel Practices, a Craft Council initiative pairing scientists and makers on a series of joint projects: at least one of the scientists involved ended up going back to his day job, adopting new, more creative working processes as a result.

The whole arts-science part of the discussion was particularly interesting for me, working in an industry that is increasingly talking about the intersection of tech and creativity. Also, on a personal note, because I spent the past few months studying graphic design, both learning about the creative process, as well as the importance of maths in design.

Some other intriguing points from the debate that I jotted down:

  • The way we we are using tech is still quite old fashioned - for example we're effectively still using mobile phones like PCs, according to Wired.co.uk reporter James Templeton
  • No one knows what the future jobs market looks like - making things (ie - not just being a passive consumer), confidence and critical thinking are key, even if the coding languages used are different.
  • 4bn people worldwide still don't have internet access. And companies like Facebook are leading the charge in many places to get people online. That could have a profound impact on how people experience digital tech and the limitations around it.

Will tech save us? Will everyone in the country knowing how to code even save us? Who knows. But it's an interesting time to be asking the question, to be questioning our love/hate relationship with what so often just appears 'indistinguishable from magic'.