11-Jan-2017

Interview with futurist, analyst und speaker Elliott Masie

On Tuesday, 24 January 2017, Elliott Masie will be holding a keynote on Learning Trends, Shifts & Disrupters at LEARNTEC 2017. According to his visionary ideas, we will soon be connected with the right support people from all over the world instead of the limited number of colleagues around us. In an interview he explains how intelligent machines will know the individual knowledge needs of each person and offer them individual content out of thousands of documents.

futurist, analyst und speaker Elliott Masie

Elliott – what is your vision of learning in 2030? Will we all be wearing 3D glasses moving in entirely virtual learning environments?

Well, first of all I would like to state that with the fast changing technology we cannot predict anything further than the next two years. What I can state is that learning will be exciting and quite different from today.

Could you please be more specific?

In the future we will be dealing with more knowledge in cloud. There will be a fundamental change in the way knowledge is acquired and shared. Knowledge will be everywhere. Employees can ask a question – verbally if they want – and the answer will be exactly tailored to their needs.

Is this what you mean by “learning personalization”?

Yes. For instance, you have a professional training for marketing managers. A beginner will need much more basic information than a marketing expert who has been in the job for 30 years or has a PHD. That’s a well-known fact. But the interesting new aspect is the knowledge source: Instead of having only two or three articles on the topic the trainees now have access to ten thousands of articles and graphics. Machine intelligence will give you and me different answers, because we differ a lot in what we need, how we learn,and what we know and don’t know. So you will no longer spend hours searching for the right answer, but the information offered to you is shaped by information the machine has over you. So everyone has a different access to the knowledge they need.

That sounds very time-consuming and expensive.

On the contrary. Thanks to simulation the usage of material can be significantly reduced. Now we have the ability to try things before we do them. Let me give you an example: You have an expensive electric car, a Tesla. You notice that two tires do not have enough air. You drive up to the garage, you take the air pump and open the valve, but then you have to figure out how much air you have to add. Should you put in a little more than the manual says, because you carry heavy luggage? Is the low pressure a result of the cold weather? Instead of trying and failing on your way to success, you can use simulation. With your hands in the air or touching a screen the system tells me exactly how to fill the exact amount of air into the tires. Simulation will be everywhere.

But where does the knowledge come from?

From people. We will be more connected to people who we trust. When you work for an insurance company, for example, and you have a complicated process to do, you need a reliable, trustworthy support person. Normally you turn around in your chair and ask your colleague for help. But he may not be able to answer your question. Now you just push a button and a person from Africa or Asia pops up on your screen. This person is familiar with your problem and can help you immediately.

… if the person is online.

That’s a question of organization. We can find the time for social exchange. Of course it’s a matter of give and take. For example, I take an hour a week to reply to requests from others. I want to help them, because the next day I may need help from the network. This kind of cooperation won’t feel techy, it will be a world where knowledge, support and simulation are ubiquitous.

But so far it’s only a vision. How can Virtual and Augmented Reality support today’s learning?

Right now, VR and AR are fun toys that work very well in the gaming world. 20 percent of these products are interesting, but I am not so sure about their effectiveness in learning. Besides the “wow” effect – will it help the majority of learners? New technologies take three to six years from experiment to useful application. Skype, for instance, has been around for many years, and only now it is being used for distance learning, e-healthcare, etc. In the Philippines, millions of adults who work far away from home are skyping with their children every night to help them with their homework. Who would have thought that skype would become a global distance learning tool?

Does technology available today provide all we need to gather knowledge and skills? If not, which elements are still missing?

Design is missing, we had television for decades before Spielberg presented something like ET. We have to experience more, try things, break the rules. There are people who would like to build courses on Pokémon GO. But it is just not possible. We don’t even know what it could do for learning. It will not take 20 or 30 years, but definitely more than a few months.

In the last few years there has been a lot of brain research telling us how learning works. Does today’s technology correspond to the results, i.e. are the tools capable of stimulating our hippocampus?

We are now understanding there are cognitive indicators how somebody is learning; now we have to do research which of these indicators can be used by individuals and organizations. I can’t wait to wear a watch that looks at my brain and gives me feedback. It would tell me, that at my age of 66 I should not write articles after 5 pm, because my performance drops significantly after that time. I would like a “green-yellow-red” indicator on my performance level and an e-mail program that tells me not to send the message yet, because it’s not good enough. IBM is doing a lot of research on this cognitive technology. For me, cognitive means: Whenever I work there will be online help – no matter if it is a family, social, health, or leisure time topic.

Can you give me an example how personalized information works in leisure time?

For example, you go to a restaurant: At the entrance there is a face recognition, so my menu is different than the one of my neighbors, because it respects my interests and health aspects. In order to get these indicators, we will move to biometric recognition. That’s the simplest form of data protection.

But if I want to eat something different than usual?

Of course you can still decide yourself. The biometric identification only makes suggestions. You can switch to the standard menu any time.

Will technology be able to serve everyone their own menu of learning nuggets?

That depends on what you want to invest. Learning is a market place: If you want to learn for free, you will not have 1000 choices, but if you or your employer is willing to pay (money, energy, effort, time) you can have 1000 choices. It’s just like in a conference: When you have 1600 people and want to offer breakfast and lunch, you ideally offer a buffet. When 30 people have allergies and specific needs, you can easily handle that, but not for 1600. The same holds true for learning: You can build learning with few choices for the majority of learners. It is possible to offer an individual design for a small target group, but not for thousands of SAP workers worldwide.

Elliott, thank you very much for this interesting interview.

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