On January of each year, it has become my habit to post in this blog a yearly prediction. I forgot to make one this year, so here it is.
This prediction is not directly related to quantum computers, but it might be related to them indirectly. The prediction has to do with the future role of universities and their professors in scientific research. Although currently most quantum computing research is done by university professors, this may not be true for much longer. The role of university professors is currently undergoing rapid, drastic changes. In the future, university professors may be so busy teaching or performing clerical duties that they won’t be able to devote sufficient time to their scientific research activities. If you are young and want to do research in quantum computing, maybe you should consider starting a company rather than becoming a university professor.
University level online education has been around for more than a decade, some of it offered by universities themselves. However, most universities, afraid that such modern teaching techniques could spell the end of their highly lucrative racket, have portrayed online education as being only a supplementary educational tool, in no sense to be thought of as a serious alternative to a campus education. But the times, they are a-changing.
The Khan Academy, started in 2006, put universities to shame, showing how just one person can teach Calculus and other engineering subjects FOR FREE to tens of millions of people, in dozens of languages. Meanwhile, famous American universities have continued to increase their yearly tuitions to astronomical levels (MIT yearly tuition for 2012-2013: $42,000).
The newest trend in online education, and one which is catching on like wildfire (Coursera only started 2 years ago and already has had millions of enrollees), is MOOCs, massive open online courses, so called because these courses have “massive” enrolments, sometimes in the tens of thousands of students. Enrollment is free, at least for now. Tests are only of the multiple choice kind and machine graded (like SATs), but you get to ask your questions to thousands of attentive live ears.
Two of the biggest MOOC players are Coursera and EdX. Coursera was started by Stanford profs, and EdX by MIT/Harvard profs. I like to call Coursera the robber baron capitalist team and EdX the Marxist/Stallman-ist communist one. The capitalists have venture capital funding and tout themselves as a startup, whereas the communists were started as an effort to stymie the capitalists, and they have no VC funding (they are funded by charitable grants). The capitalists and the communists are in fierce competition. Currently, the capitalists are trouncing the communists. Here is the score board, as of Feb 2013:
I think that the EdX people are destined to lose the competition and fade away into oblivion. To begin with, their name really sucks. Furthermore, my impression is that their heart isn’t really in what they are doing. Their goal seems to be merely to perpetuate the old thinking that online education is a nice supplement but not an alternative to campus education, and that universities are a not-for-profit institution (that might be true technically, but is it true spiritually?). Nobody believes those fibs anymore.
My prediction: (I’m not saying that this prediction is necessarily what I want the future to be. I’m just saying that I believe that the inexorable market forces will produce this result in the end.)
My prediction is that in future (in the next 10-20 years?), most research will no longer be done by universities but rather by companies or public labs, like Bell Labs, Google, IBM, NIST, CERN, etc. The most prestigious universities will become for profit businesses. Each of them will have dozens or even thousands of frachisees throughout the world (The McDonald’s model). Franchisees will be entrusted with running miniscule (by current university campus standards) outlets where students can take supervised tests. Also, those outlets will be used to give the occasional lab course and to hold social meetups. Students will do most of their learning online. They will no longer have to travel to another country to go to McMIT or McHarvard or McStanford. Most university professors, with the exception of the very few superstars that actually “act” in the training videos, will perform menial roles similar to those of McDonald’s minimum wage employees, and have to ask questions like, would you like some fries with that exam? Most present day university professors are royal peacocks enamored with themselves. This will be quite a blow to their egos.