Vital Syllabus: Disruption
The concept of the Vital Syllabus was introduced in the book Vital Foresight, published in June 2021. One of the key themes in that book was the urgent need to radically transform education. Improving the practice of education is an essential prerequisite to improving the future of humanity.
To be clear, this is not just a matter of “education for people aged 5-18” (or similar). It’s a matter of people of all ages and in all walks of life, all around the world, being able to educate and re-educate themselves.
Requirements for an upgraded education system
The book Vital Foresight reviewed six requirements for education in the 2020s that are, alas, not being met by mainstream educational systems.
First, whereas mainstream education tends to assume that most change is linear, or incremental, the Vital Syllabus raises awareness of exponential change and accelerating feedback cycles.
- It focuses attention on the potential for emerging disruptive technology to transform human experience in multiple ways that are hard to predict.
- In particular, it covers skills of anticipatory foresight and scenario design and evaluation, including the identification and management of both disruption and contingency.
Second, whereas mainstream education assumes a broadly static cultural background, the Vital Syllabus prepares students for ultra-diversity.
- People’s interactions with each other nowadays aren’t just more numerous than in the past, but are much more varied – because of greater global travel, and because groups of people are increasingly adopting new lifestyles, new bodily modifications, new social structures, and new philosophies, including several varieties of transhumanism.
- Moreover, the Vital Syllabus prepares us to coexist, not just with diverse other people, but also with advanced AIs and robots.
Third, whereas mainstream education tends to prioritise the memorisation of facts, the Vital Syllabus highlights critical thinking and collaborative intelligence.
- The goal, in effect, is to inoculate all of us, in advance, against the damaging mental pathogens that are increasingly bombarding us.
- Indeed, we all are coming into contact with ever-greater amounts of information, in rapidly evolving formats – with much of that information being designed to mislead or confuse, and lots more being unintentionally misleading or confusing.
- We need to learn to handle all that better.
Fourth, many of the assumptions behind traditional frameworks for ethics and morality are being challenged by new ideas that are circulating, and by unprecedented new possibilities that technology puts in our hands.
- It remains important for people to be able to listen to their intuitions, but these intuitions are proving misguided more frequently than before.
- That’s a reason for improved fluidity and clarity of thinking.
- It’s also a reason for the Vital Syllabus to elevate not only IQ (measures of raw intellectual power) but also EQ, including emotional resilience and mental agility.
Fifth, whereas most of history has witnessed a competitive struggle for scarce resources, emerging technologies will increasingly enable a post-scarcity society, in which the majority of the products and services needed for a good standard of living will be available in abundance.
- Accordingly, the Vital Syllabus highlights the management of abundance alongside the management of scarcity – noting that both skills are needed in parallel.
Sixth, as a special case of transitioning from scarcity to abundance, society needs to be ready for a transition in what it is assumed most people will be doing with their time:
- A transition from the assumption that most people should seek and gain paid employment
- To the assumption that most people will be “post-employment”.
To recap: the overall requirement for the Vital Syllabus is to prepare people of all ages to handle the risks and take advantage of the opportunities of a society that:
- Is changing rapidly, with the changes being challenging to anticipate
- Is ultra-diverse – with a growing variety of transhumans and AIs
- Is awash with irrationality and destructive tendencies
- Has lost its confidence in traditional moral principles
- Is approaching a state of “post-scarcity”, characterised by abundance
- Is approaching a state of “post-work” and self-determination.
The Vital Syllabus was initially created as part of the London Futurists website.
It has subsequently been relocated to its own website, VitalSyllabus.org.
Some of the Vital Syllabus material still contains references to the original location. These references will be updated in due course.
A syllabus for everyone
The Vital Syllabus is for everyone, not just for the few.
The material which the Vital Syllabus recommends must be available, throughout the world, at zero access cost beyond that of basic online connectivity. No firewalls or other restrictions should be involved.
Of course, education is more than a set of raw input materials. It also includes communities of students and teachers, assessments by which people can check their understanding, opportunities to exercise new skills, systems to personalise the learning experience to individual needs and circumstances, and positive feedback mechanisms. All of these, likewise, should be available at prices that quickly reduce toward zero – taking advantage of the technologies of abundance.
Therefore, the Vital Syllabus is provided as part of what is anticipated to be a wider set of enhancements to education:
- An expansion of online materials and online courses
- Tech-supported collaborative learning – so that communities of students can support and assist each other
- AI systems, including automated essay marking, which can improve the evaluation of the areas in which each student would benefit from further study or alternative approaches
- “Precision personalised education” – akin to “precision personalised medicine”
- Use of biofeedback to monitor and manage mental states while learning
- Opportunities with gamification and “serious games”
- Immersive virtual reality learning environments
- Empirical measurements of the effectiveness of different approaches to education.
To discuss these possibilities further, see the possibilities for connection listed on the Connect page.