Thank you very much, Dominic, for that kind introduction. I'm delighted to be here at BETT today.
And I have to start by congratulating all the companies in this Hall.
British companies are world-leaders in the field of educational technology, and going from strength to strength – the members of Besa, for example, increased exports by 12% in 2010. Crick Software, which has worked in the USA, Chile and Qatar and which already supplies 90% of UK primary schools, recently secured their biggest single order ever, supplying half of all schools in Moscow with Clicker 5 literacy software (fully translated into Russian).
Promethean, which makes interactive whiteboards and educational software, signed a memorandum of collaboration with the Mexican Ministry of Education last June to work in primary and secondary education throughout Mexico.
These are just a few of the hugely impressive achievements of British companies – and there are many more all around us. I'd also like to mention particularly all those shortlisted for the BETT awards tonight. Good luck to all nominees, and congratulations (in advance) to the winners…
How technology has changed the world, and the workplace
All around us, the world has changed in previously unimaginable and impossible ways. Most of us carry more advanced technology in the smartphone in our pocket than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to reach the Moon.
Every day we work in environments which are completely different to those of twenty-five or a hundred years ago.
Where once clerks scribbled on card indexes and lived by the Dewey Decimal system, now thousands of office workers roam the world from their desktop.
Where once car manufacturing plants housed lines of workers hammering and soldering and drilling, now a technician controls the delicate operations of a whole series of robots.
When I started out as a journalist in the 1980s, it was a case of typewriters and telexes in smoky newsrooms, surrounded by the distant clatter of hot metal.
Now newsrooms – and journalists – are almost unrecognisable, as are the daily tools of the trade. The telex machine became a fax, then a pager, then email. A desktop computer became a laptop computer. My pockets were filled with huge mobile phones, then smaller mobile phones, a Blackberry, and now an e-reader and iPad.
And with each new gadget, each huge leap forward, technology has expanded into new intellectual and commercial fields.
Twenty years ago, medicine was not an information technology. Now, genomes have been decoded and the technologies of biological engineering and synthetic biology are transforming medicine. The boundary between biology and IT is already blurring into whole new fields, like bio-informatics.
Twenty years ago, science journals were full of articles about the 'AI Winter' – the fear that post-war hopes for Artificial Intelligence had stalled. Now, detailed computer models show us more than we ever imagined about the geography of our minds. Amazing brain-computer-interfaces allow us to control our physical environment by the power of thought – truly an example of Arthur C. Clarke's comment that any sufficiently advanced technology can seem like magic.
Twenty years ago, only a tiny number of specialists knew what the internet was and what it might shortly become. Now, billions of people and trillions of cheap sensors are connecting to each other, all over the world – and more come online every minute of every day.
Almost every field of employment now depends on technology. From radio, to television, computers and the internet, each new technological advance has changed our world and changed us too.
But there is one notable exception.
Education has barely changed
The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest "akademia" in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens.
A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning.
But that model won't be the same in twenty years' time. It may well be extinct in ten.
Technology is already bringing about a profound transformation in education, in ways that we can see before our very eyes and in others that we haven't even dreamt of yet.
Now, as we all know, confident predictions of the technological future have a habit of embarrassing the predictor.
As early as 1899, the director of the U.S. Patent Office, Charles H. Duell, blithely asserted that "everything that can be invented has already been invented."
In 1943, the chairman of IBM guessed that "there is a world market for maybe five computers". The editor of the Radio Times said in 1936, "television won't matter in your lifetime or mine".
Most impressively of all, Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, scored a hat-trick of embarrassing predictions between 1897-9, declaring, "radio has no future", "X-rays are clearly a hoax" and "the aeroplane is scientifically impossible".