On this day in 1997, a supercomputer called Deep Blue beat grandmaster Gary Kasparov in the final game of a series of chess matches. When you consider how far computers had come in 50 years, that result is remarkable. In 1943 the world’s first electronic, general-purpose computer weighed a colossal 30 tons! 10 years later the IBM 650 – at 2,250kg a much lighter machine – cost $500,000 to buy. That’s over $4m in today’s money! But within a generation, a computer had been developed which could beat the best chess player in the world at his own game. Man had been out-thought by machine.
The astronomic rise of the computer has continued, too. They’ve got faster, smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more widespread. Think about it – you’re woken in the morning by the alarm on your mobile phone. After a quick coffee from your own machine, you bundle the kids into the car to take them to school. The trip computer says you need petrol, so you drop in at the petrol station en route; you pay at the pump for speed, and off you go again. As your children settle down for lessons on an interactive whiteboard from a teacher working off a tablet, you head home to check your emails. The day has hardly begun, and computers already feature prominently! 12-year olds have mobile phones, 8-year olds have games consoles and your 2-year old unlocking your iPad and playing games is no longer a coffee morning anecdote but a fact of life. Computers are everywhere, for everyone.
So it’s not surprising that IT is playing an increasing role in education. Being computer literate is crucial. One speaker at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Manchester in 2012 went as far as to suggest that the rise of smartphones means “we are no longer in an age where a substantial ‘fact bank’ in our heads is required.” Or, in other words, why learn it when you can Google it? Isn’t knowing how to find the information more helpful than knowing it by heart?
But the thing is, computers don’t create. Here at BrainBox, we know this better than most! Ideas, imagination, innovation, creativity – they’re all things that come from people, not from computers. It’s not a computer that generates our ideas for new games – it’s our staff! Their inspiration and fresh ideas are what keep us going. If we prize computer literacy over creativity, what happens to our art galleries? Our concert halls? Our bookshops? Where will the next innovations in renewable energy come from? Who will design the next iconic building on the London skyline? As instruments of creativity, computers are outstanding. But as initiators of creativity, they are a poor substitute.
So yes, let’s make sure our children are equipped to thrive in a world dominated by computers – but let’s also make sure their natural creativity has space to flourish. Walks in the woods, trips to the theatre, songs around the campfire, stories about what life was like when grandpa was growing up – there are so many ways to fuel that creative fire, and ensure computers serve the creativity of our children, not stifle it.