In 2040, universities will be a place of dreams, much more so than today. As early as 1929, Albert Einstein said it best in an interview: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited […].” As time progresses, universities will no longer be places of training for administrative elites whose life purpose is to maintain and expand power at the state level. Rather, institutions of higher learning will increasingly reflect the ideal that the quest for truth calls for freedom.
To a certain degree, this will mark a return to the roots of universities, to the academies of the Antique era in Athens and Alexandria. When the world’s first universities opened 900 years ago in Bologna and Paris with the amalgamation of different schools that were organized by students themselves, Europe took the lead.
The universities of the future will also increasingly be voluntary shelters of the mind in the quest for new ideas. This will not hap – pen automatically, as there will be resistance. The universities of the future will have to fight for their independence and special rights, as they once had to against kings, bishops, and cities. This time, however, states, religions, and economic monopolies will be replaced with commercial interests. At their core, universities will also remain communities of teachers and learners that enjoy a special legal status.
If students, professors, researchers, and practitioners continue to meet and spend time together at unique historical locations, there will be continuity. However, the campus of the future will be expanded to the entire world with the help of new technologies. The virtual reality of the future will erase geographical boundaries. It will thus become possible to attend lectures and seminars at Harvard, in Leipzig, Capetown, or Beijing, as presence will no longer be linked to physical location. Holograms will be created that will not merely resemble ghosts, but will have the technical ability to see the bright light of New England, feel the African sand between their toes, or taste the flavor of Oolong tea.
While past university classes were marked by the spoken word, unspoken thought will become more relevant in the future. This will be made possible by new technologies that will combine face recognition with the interpretation of reactions and temperatures, as well as the interpretation of electrical impulses based on individual behavioral patterns. The aim here will not be to control or even restrict thought. Rather, the objective will be to practice and apply logical conclusions and scientific lines of argumentation. More than ever, students will be able to discover their talents at an early stage and improve their weaknesses in a targeted manner, as testing methods will be more individualized than they were in the past. University debates will improve in quality, as new decision-making algorithms will make it possible for debaters to measure the strength of their arguments directly in personal networks.
More than ever, students will be able to take strong positions and weigh different opinions. This will sharpen their minds, and the practice will better prepare them for real life than is currently possible. Arguments and counterarguments will encourage independent thought and create an intellectual foundation for the life to come. Graduates will thus be equipped with an armor of knowledge and values that will form the basis of their self-worth, and which cannot be taken away from them. Above all, this type of education will also be an asset when technology fails or improvisation is called for. The ability to ask critical questions will become the ultimate asset. University testing will also be easiest for non-conformists who remain calm even in extreme situations, who can draw new connections between subjects, recognize subtle interactions, and seek new ideas for the benefit of the community.
The world’s best minds will be able to exchange knowledge at all times, and the knowledge gathered will be made available to the world in real time. While libraries will continue to exist, the contents of books will be retrieved either in writing, verbally, or through thought. There will no longer be language barriers: just as Latin united students in previous centuries, applications with simultaneous translation will translate the written and spoken word to such a high standard of quality that people will speak to each other in different languages, but still have the feeling that they grew up together.
Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, which represents the sheer power of thought without any external help, will continue to symbolize the measure of all things. In two decades’ time, technology will continue to serve people, but will not be an end in itself. The human mind will still not have reached the limits of its ability. Rather, in symbiosis with technology, it will be able to reach new heights. While there will be a greater understanding of the human brain, there will still be a need for research.
While even the best minds will remain mortal in 2040, they will live longer and their knowledge will live on even after they die – as avatars, their words and movements will be available to future generations in the form of ancestral portrait galleries.
The university of 2040 will be a meeting place for young people who will be characterized by lightness, courage, and tolerance. It will be more attractive than ever as a place that promotes intellectual awakenings. Achievements will never be seen as enough, but rather as a base station for reaching new peaks. Current performance will determine those who learn and those who teach. The boundaries will be blurred and flexible project groups and networks will take shape between faculties on a needs-oriented basis. Curiosity, innovation, and optimism will be the most decisive factors in determining academic reputation. The boundaries between the humanities and the natural sciences will disappear. Moreover, universities will be a place of pure joie de vivre and celebration. More than ever, university will become attractive to people for whom feelings and desires have gained significance in an age of machines, data, and networks. Relationships that last a lifetime will take shape here.
Dr. Michael Bolle, President of the corporate sector for research and advance engineering at Robert Bosch GmbH, received his PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Bochum. Since 1992, he held various positions at Bosch and affiliated companies. In 1999, Michael co-founded Systemonic AG, which developed application-specific standard products for the wireless communications industry, including wireless multi-protocol silicon systems. After the company was acquired by Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV in 2002, he became the Executive Vice President (EVP) at ADIT, a joint venture between Bosch, Denso (Germany) and Kariya (Japan). In the following years, Dr. Bolle worked for Robert Bosch Car Multimedia GmbH as EVP engineering and business units. He holds his current position since 2014.