Self-Driving Cars, Robot Nannies & Starships to Mars… - Glasshouse Christian College

Self-Driving Cars, Robot Nannies & Starships to Mars…

  • May 19, 2022

Self-Driving Cars, Robot Nannies & Starships to Mars…

How do we prepare for a future like this???

As part of my role as Dean of Studies at GCC, I have the privilege of meeting with students to discuss their futures and how that relates to what they are studying now in school, and what their pathway to a career might look like, whether it be heading to University or getting a trade qualification, or some other pathway to work. I’m fascinated by the future and what it will look like for our young people (and for us) and who or what might determine the ‘landscape’ of the future. This interest is what first led me to the idea for our Year 10 DeLorean Project program and has since guided my thinking on how young people might prepare for their futures. I could write an entire essay on this topic, but for this article, my goal is that you might better understand the future that is possibly (some would say very likely) coming our way. I wonder how many people are thinking about what the future will look like by 2030? 2035? 2040? I wonder how many people don’t even realise that the technologies that were once only the functional stories of Star Trek are either already a reality, or very close to being one? 

Enter Elong Musk

Enter Elon Musk… Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, The Bored Company and most recently the new owner (majority shareholder) of Twitter. What a resume hey! Elon recently did two interviews with TED CEO Chris Andrews, one interview pre-recorded at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Texas, and the other live on the TED stage a few weeks later.

In this article, I want to share with you some of the things that I found mind-boggling from these interviews, that Elon believes will be a reality in our near future… things that will absolutely change the world as we know it!

One of the things that Elon gets criticised for is that some of his predictions for when a given technology will be available and ready for use are often incorrect. His reply to this is: “I may have gotten the timeline wrong, but I’ve never been wrong!” Most things that Elon has predicted in the past may not have come to pass when he said it would (the actual date), but it has come to pass. So what are Elon’s current predictions for some emerging technologies that will change the world as we know it? Let’s have a look…

Solving Real World AI (Artificial Intelligence) for Self-Driving Autonomous Cars

This was one of those predictions that Elon did get wrong as he’s previously stated that this problem would have been solved by now. However, he reckons that this major blockage to self-driving autonomous cars will well and truly be solved this year! Is it possible that some of our younger primary school aged children will never get the opportunity to obtain their Driver’s Licence? How quickly will the car industry adopt self-driving technology once the AI is solved and ready to use? At what point does society acknowledge and accept that the risk of an autonomous car having an accident is significantly less than a human-driven car? Currently, there is 1 fatality for every 320 million miles driven by autonomous vehicles, versus 1 fatality for every 50 million miles for vehicles under human control, making autonomous vehicles about 6 times safer than human-driven vehicles.

Autonomous Robots…

This idea could only be found in the fictional stories of ‘The Jetsons’, ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Star Trek’ right? Well, Elon says that once the Real-World AI problem is solved for autonomous vehicles, the application to autonomous humanoids (robots) is easy. “An autonomous car is essentially a robot on 4 wheels. Making a humanoid robot is simply a change of form factor, and is quite simple to achieve with current technologies, the thing that has been missing is the real-world AI. Autonomous humanoids are easier and safer to make than cars as they only travel at walking speed… unless of course they choose to kill you in your sleep!” Elon says, as he makes sure to clarify that he’s joking about the last part.

So what could we use an autonomous humanoid robot for that is fully dexterous, fully aware of itself and its existence in time and space and fully able to navigate around a three-dimensional environment like your house? Could it clean for you? Cook dinner for you? Read your children bedtime stories or kick the football with them out in the yard? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed with regard to usage? Will it be 100% safe in its ability to interact with humans? Can it be hacked? I’m sure there are many more questions to ask about this technology!

So when will we be able to purchase a Tesla Autonomous Humanoid? Currently, Tesla is working on its prototype, called Optimus (any Transformers fans out there?), and plan to have it fully functional in the next year or two. Tesla already has the means to scale production of this type of technology and so the idea of being able to purchase an autonomous humanoid is likely less than a decade away. For the price of a car (maybe $25,000 to start with), you’ll be able to have your very own!

Starships to Mars…

NASA has already contracted SpaceX to provide one of its ‘Starships’ (a bigger, more reusable version of its current Falcon 9 Rocket) for a Moon mission. Currently, SpaceX can produce one Starship every two months or so and by the end of this year, they should be able to produce one Starship a month.

Why make so many I hear you ask? Well, to effectively colonise Mars (one of the main goals of the SpaceX program) as a self-sustaining colony, you need approximately 1 million people. It’ll take quite a few Starships to get people and cargo there! The other challenge is that it’s only possible to fly from Earth to Mars every two years because their relative orbits mean that Mars is too far away the rest of the time.

So is this really going to happen?? Elon thinks so! He explains that SpaceX will execute its first orbital flight of Starship this year (around Earth), and then from there, the timeline to progress to manned space flight with Starship might only be a matter of years. Elon thinks it’s very possible that by the 2030s there will literally be hundreds of Starships launching every two years to colonise Mars! I’m keen to know how many questions are going through your head now?!?

Implications for our students

So what does all of this have to do with the careers of our young people? Well, maybe nothing, or maybe everything! Just consider how the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 has changed our world, including the way we work! If any of the technologies I’ve discussed in this article come to pass, I dare say life as we know it will change dramatically, and therefore work as we know it will change dramatically.

So how do we prepare our children for these sorts of changes? I believe that our young people’s skill sets will be the asset that best prepares them for the path that lies ahead. This skill set has had many names over the years: 21st Century Skills, Enterprise Skills, Soft Skills, General Capabilities to name a few. It doesn’t really matter what we call them and their name will likely continue to morph and change. What matters is that our young people are really good at them and are confident in their abilities as it relates to these skills.

The 6 C’s is a name that I like because it’s easy to remember what they are: Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Citizenship and Character Development. If our young people have had the opportunity to explicitly develop these skills by the time they finish high school, and have an awareness of how important it is to continue to develop these skills, they will surely find success in whatever career path they choose, regardless of how technology might impact our world.

Does our fairly traditional education system allow for the explicit development of these skills? Sure it does, but often opportunities are limited by the pressure of testing and the need to cover content for testing (especially in Senior School).

Do we have programs to supplement the traditional education that most schools offer? Absolutely! At GCC we believe that programs like our Year 7 FUSE and STEM, our Middle and Senior Christian Studies program and of course our Year 10 DeLorean Project program along with all of our co-curricular activities (eg- musicals) do a brilliant job of focussing on ‘the skills’, not to mention the programs that our Primary School is implementing as well. Could we do better? Always! I believe that the best course of action that we can take in any area of work and/or life is to strive to do better. Let’s attempt to do better than yesterday, better than last week and better than last year! 

Elon closes the interviews with his perspective on the future… “If you want the future to be good, you must make it so. Take action to make it good… and it will be. I love humanity and I’m optimistic about our future.” I believe that we should be optimistic about the future too, including one that might involve autonomous cars, robots, starships and the like, and we should encourage our young people to be optimistic as well! If you are interested in watching one or both of the Elon Musk interviews this article is based on, you can find them on YouTube here (pre-recorded interview) and here (live interview). Enjoy!!!

Rob Steffler, Dean of Studies

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