Technology prophet reveals his 2020 vision for Higher Education

Posted by Peter Cochrane on July 1, 2004

Network, Summer 2004

Professor Peter Cochrane OBE Hon DEng graduated from Trent Polytechnic (the forerunner of The Nottingham Trent University) in 1973 with a first class BSc Hons in Electrical Engineering. Earlier this year, he returned to deliver the first in a series of guest lectures.

Peter has lectured widely on the 'real-world' implications of technology and IT, and his thought-provoking talk focused on the subject of change within the higher education sector during the first two decades of the 21st Century. He captivated his audience with observations and examples of the ways in which technology is likely to shape education over the coming years.

He spoke of his vision of a future in which universities will promote study across disciplines utilising new technology to revolutionise the methods by which education is delivered and students learn, suggesting that, in the future, individual students will access more than one university for their study. He also proposed that industry will become much more heavily involved in funding the process of education.

Peter's professional life has consistently involved him with technological research and change. He began working for BT in

its British Post Office days during the 1960s, and joined BT Laboratories after graduating from his first degree. It was under his leadership, in 1990, that a BT research team won a prestigious Queen's Award for Innovation and Export for managing the production of optical receivers in undersea cable systems. By 1993, Peter had been promoted to the role of Head of the Research Department at BT Laboratories.

An impressive haul of awards followed including the Martlesham Medal for contributions to fibre optic technology, the IEE Computing and Control Premium, and the IERE Benefactors' Prize for published papers in 1994, and the Institute of Mining Engineers James Clerk Maxwell Memorial in 1995.

In 1999, fresh from receiving his OBE in the Queens' Birthday Honours List, Peter was dubbed a "technology prophet" by the then Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent when he returned to the university to receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering (DEng) degree. This gesture was made to mark Peter's contributions to the university, through acting as an external examiner, delivering lectures, providing inspiration to staff and students and advising on Nottingham Trent's technological development.

Peter has held several academic appointments over the years and continues to carry out the role of external supervisor to MSc and PhD students.

In 2000, Peter co-founded ConceptLabs, a company dedicated to the creation of paradigm-changing technologies and organisations, and introducing new concepts to the market.

On the subject of technological change, Peter is quoted as saying:"It takes society on average 11 years to accept change from the point that a new product is initially accepted. However, it's not just about acceptance; there are the moral and ethical issues of change to take account of."

Yet he remains optimistic about the social value of technological advancement: "People are cheaper than robots, but robots do a better job. We are moving to a point in our future where many processes will be automated and the development in robots will escalate, with robots rivalling the human brain within the next 15 years."

This vision was echoed in his talk by his suggestion that, in the future, university lectures will be virtual and vast resources

will become available to students online. Peter argued that, on the basis that only 0.001% of the information we use is now contained in books and on paper, libraries could well become obsolete. As he pointed out, if the sum total of information stored on his laptop computer was in paper form, he would need an aeroplane hangar to store it!

Peter ended his lecture by drawing attention to the idea that, with the potential that our email address books give us for access to hundreds of contacts, we are, in reality, only three clicks away from the rest of humanity

For more insights into Peter's ideas, and to obtain details of his new book, Uncommon Sense: Out of the Box Thinking for an In the