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April 8, 2012

Once upon a time there was a crazy guy who painted the ceiling of a building somewhere in Europe. Also, some other stuff was happening. Historians refer to this period as “The Renaissance”, which is a word they made up. Bryan Alexander liked this made-up word so much he used it to describe his 4th vision of the future. 


In all seriousness, trying to predict the future is a funny thing. Predictions usually either end up like this:


Or like this:


And what I mean by that is not that predicting the future is a thinly veiled attempt by Sean to get you to listen to some metal bands. What I mean is that predictions of the future are either unrealistically bleak or rosy, mostly the former, which is why that song went first. To be honest, I found all of Alexander’s predictions interesting, and definitely found his efforts to go about making them worthwhile. After all, as we learned way back at the beginning of this course, it IS possible to predict a future event with an alarming degree of accuracy. Moreover, in situations where someone does just that, is it truly because they successfully predicted the future, or is it because their prediction is what actually influenced the future? Case in point, Doug Engelbart reading Vannevar Bush. Who knows, maybe someday Cyberspace & Society professors will tell their students that Sean Clancy was inspired to create his Awesomeness Device after watching a talk by Bryan Alexander. Probably not though, since he couldn’t stop watching YouTube videos and refreshing Facebook.

Truthfully, I don’t believe that the advent of any one of the particular futures is the most likely outcome, but rather a combination of all four is in fact the most likely. But that’s a cop out and not really useful for mind-expanding discussion, so I was left with no choice but to pick one. It was a difficult choice, because all of the possible futures save one could be summed up by saying that technology played a much greater role in our lives and had changed the world in fundamental ways. The differences in how this manifested itself is what delineated the three positive futures. 

So then why Renaissance? For one, I’m a big fan of the game-centric concept. While I have a fairly strong background with video games, I’m not much of a “gamer” anymore and that didn’t really influence my decision. Actually, I have strong faith in the idea of game-based learning because it worked for me. About 2 years ago, I made the decision to re-attack the problem of learning Japanese with vigor. Going to a school was a temporal impossibility for me at the time, so I thought I would use the traditional method of textbook and notebook, augmented with some PC software. This proved boring and ineffective, and someone recommended My Japanese Coach for Nintendo DS to me. I actually bought the system only for this purpose, and the breakthroughs I made using it were incredible. My only complaint about the game was that it was too short and wouldn’t carry one all the way to Japanese fluency. 

So how could this actually affect my future? If I may play Bryan Alexander for a moment, right now my plan is to join the US State Department after graduation, though this could change of course. In 2022 I will hopefully be a 34 year old (many thanks for making me imagine this) gainfully employed diplomat. How could game-based learning and simulations help me? Well, in the first case, much the same way they did 12 years prior. Obviously I would be stationed in foreign countries on a continuous basis. Since English has become the de facto world language, and this is unlikely to change, it’s doubtful I would directly need knowledge of a foreign language for my work, but it would be incredibly useful in my personal life would it not? I was impressed by game-based language learning in 2010, imagine how the game-based language learning of 2022 will far eclipse that. Imagine having a simulated conversation with a native speaker using voice recognition technology, with a dynamic system that could give you instant feedback on how you did,  for example how much of a foreigner you sounded like to the person you were speaking with. I feel like people often reach for the word “dynamic” when they’re really not sure how to explain what they’re talking about (and being in the recruiting business, I see lots of job openings for a “dynamic individual”, though I have yet to hear a candidate refuse one because he is a “static” type of person) but in this case I feel it’s appropriate.

Also, simulations could be a huge part of my job. What if the US government used simulation software that could give reasonably accurate predictions about the implementation of certain policies, either by the US government, host government or both? More importantly, what if this type of software wasn’t on the periphery of serious discourse like say, chiropractic, but held enormous weight? What if jaws clenched around a conference table in light of a particularly grave prediction? 

Well, now that I mention it, it doesn’t sound like too bad of a future to me. Hopefully I’ll be standing in it someday.

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  1. Thanks for the metal blasts. The video on either of them were a bit static. I was expecting some imagery of the future. I guess that’s what the lyrics are for.

    If I were a gambling man, I’d bet all the money in the Macao casinos that state department analysts will be using simulations in a manner you suggest. In fact, I’d bet that they already are doing so. I’ve heard the Pentagon is big on this sort of thing too.

    I wish you well in your journey to join the foreign service. This seems like a great challenge for you.

  2. Thanks, I’m pretty anxious to get started with a career even though I’ve got a long way to go yet.

    About the videos, yeah I too wish that they had some kind of video to convey what the song was about. But official videos were never made for either song, the second song predates the metal video era (Metallica was the first metal band to make a music video in 1989 or so). There are some fan videos on YouTube, but I’m pretty sure they were made by 13-year olds and I didn’t really find them appropriate.

    I’ve actually heard recently that Macao is incredibly depressing…

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