The Marriage of Education & Technology — Education for the exponential age of humanity

This is a transcript of the TEDx talk by Alan Smithson on February 9th, 2019 at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada.

The world is approaching a tipping point where technology is accelerating faster than we can manage the rate of change. If we don’t fundamentally alter how we educate our youth, as we enter the exponential phase of humanity, here is what our world could become:

The date is February 9, 2039.

Your child is now in their mid-thirties; Rapid advances in technology have decimated the job market leaving millions under-employed and trapped in an ever-increasing wealth disparity gap.

Good paying, middle-class jobs such as medical, accounting and legal have been replaced by algorithms, it is illegal to drive and all manufacturing jobs have been replaced by automation. Even coding once thought to be the job of the future has been replaced by computers that write code faster than any human in history.

Billions live under the poverty line, there is war, famine, and environmental disasters that displace hundreds of millions. This is not science-fiction, this is the world that could await us only 20 years from now.

But…There is hope.

And that hope comes in the form of an idea I want to share with you today. The idea is to design a new education system that supplements transactional skillsets such as math, science and geography. This new system will focus instead on transformative mindsets like:

Gratitude — The ability to appreciate your circumstances

Mentorship — Exchange of experience

Purpose — Your personal guiding light

You see, the current education system was designed for linear growth. It was designed to move at a limited speed. Students progress at a set pace, teachers only teach at that pace and administrators do everything in their power to maintain the status quo. The current system never contemplated the disruption that will be caused by exponential growth. We are entering the exponential age of humanity where the rate of change will outpace the speed at which our current education system can adapt to serve the needs of children becoming obsolete within the next 20 years.

By one estimate, 65% of grade one children will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.

In an age of instant information, we are still teaching students in standardized classrooms….Don’t believe me? Here is a classroom from the 1800’s. Notice anything?

It’s basically a one size fits all system…everyone has to take the same courses, at the same pace, for the same number of years. They are all measured and graded the same way. We have literally created an assembly line from Kindergarten to University.

So how do we create a system that enables creativity while reinforcing transformative mindsets at a global scale?

The answer is Technology.

By harnessing emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Virtual & Augmented Reality, Quantum Computing and Blockchain we can solve the greatest existential risk ever faced by humanity, inadequate education

So why does this matter to me?

I am an entrepreneur at heart. In 2010, I saw a video of a DJ playing on a piece of glass floating in mid-air, I said ‘That’s it! That’s what we are going to build’. I found the inventor, a savant coder named Pablo Martin and together we created the world’s first see-through, multi-touch midi controller, Emulator. We leveraged everything we had to pursue the dream of building a new DJ system for the world. We launched Emulator at a TEDx event in 2010. Over 5 years, through literal blood, sweat and tears, we built a great product and a globally recognized brand.

In 2015, we were offered a $500,000 deal on Dragons Den, but we had already accepted another deal with a private investor. I thought I had found my purpose. But I wasn’t aware that I was about to learn a lesson that school definitely didn’t prepare me for.

The day the Dragons Den episode aired, the investor we brought on, fired my wife and business partner, from our own company locking her out of her emails and accounts. We watched in horror for the next 6 months as the investor systematically stole our company right from under us. To make things worse, we also signed a loan for the company against our house…..we lost our house… we lost everything…we were homeless.

But…It wasn’t the pain of losing the material things, it was the time I spent away from my kids for years, missing birthdays, missing recitals, missing them growing up, with absolutely nothing to show for it. That was the worst part of losing everything.

I am not sharing this with you so you feel sorry for me. In fact, it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. This allowed me to have the time to realize my true purpose of creating a new education system for our youth, one that would prepare students for the real world.

This purpose was inspired by my beautiful daughters, Abi and Holly, who are in the audience today.

After attending an inventors camp when she was only 10 years old, Abi came home one day and said ‘Mommy, you have ugly sandal tans, it would be much prettier with a heart tan line’…And that is how her company Love Sandal was born.

Well, it was a little more work than that. I invested my time, knowledge and experience teaching her about entrepreneurship, marketing, sales, financial management and product design, we endeavoured to give her the transformative mindsets of gratitude, mentorship, and purpose.

Armed with these mindsets, Abi went on to win “Top 20 Under 20” when she was only 10 years old. Abi was the youngest member accepted to the Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ), and she was mentored by the President of Aldo, she also had a booth at the world’s largest shoe trade show in Las Vegas. She has a list of accomplishments many seasoned entrepreneurs would be envious of.

Little did she know that in her success lied my true purpose and mission:

“To inspire and educate future leaders to think and act in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way”

We can instill these success mindset principles for every child, everywhere, but how?

Raise your hands if you have a Netflix account? Did you know that Netflix uses artificial intelligence algorithms to personalized your movie selections? The more you watch, the better your programming gets.

So If Netflix can use AI algorithms to give you better movies to watch, why can’t we do this for education?

Did you know that in 2000 Netflix offered to sell the company for $50M to Blockbuster? Blockbuster laughed them out of the room. Today, Netflix is worth $150B and Blockbuster?

Sending your kids to the current school system in 20 years from now will be like driving to a Blockbuster store to rent a VHS tape. It will be ridiculous, outdated, obsolete.

Companies today have realized the need to transform, become more agile, and personalize their services to their customers. Even if you think the only purpose of the current school systems is to prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow, it’s won’t even do that.

There are many things I wish I had learned in school. Things such as Financial Literacy, Meditation, Goal Setting, and Sales.

I am going to use an Augmented Reality mind map to illustrate some of the life lessons I feel are going to be fundamental to success as we enter the exponential age of humanity.

By using scalable technologies such as VR/AR & AI, we can deliver this missing link to education so that our future goes like this…

The date is February 9, 2039.

Your child is now in their mid-thirties, Unlimited renewable Power, 5G Global Internet and Advanced Genetics have given every human the ability to live well within the UN’s Sustainability Goals.

Billions benefit from unlimited free education. Redistribution of global wealth has been achieved through the transparency of blockchain and the philanthropy of the world’s greatest leaders. By moving from ‘What job do you want to do?’ to ‘What problem do you want to solve?” The success mindset of a generation has been unleashed.

The world is a utopia that is attainable if we act fast… By creating a new model for global education, we will have unlocked the future we all dream of.

This is why I am dedicating the rest of my life and 25% of my shares in my company to using every piece of technology we have to unleash the greatest potential in human history.

I hope you will join me on my mission to inspire and educate future leaders to think and act in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way. And to instill transformative mindsets like gratitude, mentorship and purpose in the next generations.

This is the only way to design tomorrow.

With Gratitude,

Alan Smithson


Alan’s purpose in life is to inspire and educate future leaders to think and act in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way.