The Quantified Self, the Great College Killer

The Quantified Self, the Great College Killer


Who are you as an individual?

As part of a family, you are measured by your domestic life and the relatives closest to you. As a prospective employee, you are evaluated by your skills, talents, and knowledge. As part of a community, you are gauged by the kind of relationships you build and maintain. As an athlete you are assessed by your physical strengths, your reaction times, and your determination.

Whatever kind of lens or filter we place over our lives we use different systems for measuring those key differentiators. And while we all think we are the world’s foremost expert on ourselves, we actually know very little.

That’s about to change.

The Internet of Things is already comprised of over 10 billion moving parts, and by 2020 that number will grow to over 50 billion.

These “things” have a way of gathering information about ourselves in ways we never imagined were possible. Not only will we be able to monitor the quantity and quality of food we eat, the air we breath, and our daily activities, but we will also be tracking the information we consume, our moods, our level of engagement, and what undertakings we find most stimulating.

In addition to charting the normal inputs and outputs for our mind and body, we will also be evaluating the context in which we exist. Whether it’s an emotional context, environmental context, or spiritual context, each plays an important role in determining who we are. In the future, it all becomes measurable.

The “quantified self” is all about building a vast and measurable information sphere around us. As we get better acquainted with the Delphic maxim “know thyself,” we will become far more aware of our deficiencies and the pieces of learning needed to shore up our shortfalls. And that’s why this will have such a tremendous impact on colleges.

Compensating for these deficiencies won’t be about getting bachelor or master degrees. Rather, they will be about gaining experiences, reading books, meeting people, or working as an apprentice. At most, it will be about taking 1-2 courses at a university, but not an entire degree package. Here’s why.

Quantifying Human Attributes

If you were doing a job search for someone who is extremely creative, detail oriented, or has a great passion for life, what kind of credentials will you be look for?

If you need someone who is extremely persistent, enjoys working in isolation, or an ability to discern tiny little details, what kind of diplomas will you want them to have?

Human attributes fall into many different categories and when connected together, form a nearly infinite number of combinations. Yet, it is these same highly nuanced human characteristics, that are often leveraged to our advantage, that also become a huge liability in a system that can’t quantify them.

Not only can we not measure, rate, or score human attributes, we currently have no well-accepted system for improving on them or credentialing them.

The big picture of who we are gets lost in a blur of anecdotes.

But emerging from the shadows of yesteryear’s murkiness comes a host of new quantifiable-self technologies that promise an end to our primary-colors-only view of our uniqueness.

“The big picture of who we are gets lost in a blur of anecdotes.”

The Super-Quantified Human Checkup

Imagine stepping through a series of assessments that rates you in say, 947 different categories of physical attributes and human characteristics.

Once you have your personal information sphere in place, now visualize a similar but larger sphere that depicts your goals and desires for the future and plots out a tactical plan for getting there.

As an example, if you felt you wanted more control over your life, it might recommend a series of management books, videos, or classes to help you gain those skills.

If you have a secret desire to become more famous, it might recommend a number of achievable benchmarks that would position you in the limelight.

If your interests center around becoming more physically trim and active, it may advise you on possible workout regiments, diets, and workshops.

Every person’s quantifiable information sphere would be superimposed on their desired goal-sphere, and system algorithms would constantly be prompting you on ways to get closer to your goal.

In this real-time quantifiable-self machine, every time your interests, desires, or ambitions change, so will your goal-sphere. In fact, it will recalculate many time a second to reflect the dynamic nature of matching personality shifts with new gap-filling options.

We all live in an information sphere

The College-Killer

As the quantifiable-self catches on, the tools for human assessment will expand exponentially.

As employers lose confidence in traditional transcripts and college degrees as a predictor of success, they will turn towards more sophisticated attribute-matching systems for sorting through the ultra-granular quantifiable-self and finding the closest fit.

People who don’t make the shortlist for a job opening will be given an auto-generated overview of their perceived deficiencies and ways to improve upon them.

The reason this will have such a profound affect on colleges is because our credentialing systems today for granting credits and degrees will have virtually no standing in the hyper-granular metrics used to measure job candidates in the future.

Looking at this through a bigger picture lens, as we move into the quantifiable self era, we will have far more tools for taking charge of our own destiny. Rather than spending much of our future income on a path of discovery by taking marginally relevant courses at a university, we will have a wide array of super-tools for both finding and engaging in personally relevant experiences, all in an effort to optimize “you” to become the “ultimate you.”

Final Thoughts

We are all radiating information.

Every thought we have, every action we take, and every experience we endure is casting waves, images, and twiglets of information in every possible direction, and it all quickly loses value.

The quantifiable self promises to change all that by adding gauges, dials, and tracking systems to our personal information spheres. This alone has the ability to spawn hundreds, if not thousands, of new industries.

The quantifiable self will lead to the optimized self, and eventually my future self will have the value of three of my current selves.

It becomes the first major step towards transhumanism, the next generation of humanity with greatly enhanced intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities.

To many, this will be a scary prospect. But to most of us, it’s the promise of a lifetime.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything




11 Responses

  1. Christina

    Thanks. Makes sense.

  2. Well written, Thomas. This is encouraging. I’m totally against the vice grip that college has over society. A monopoly on knowledge hurts everyone. Thankfully, college is on its way out.

    I think “quantified self” is a magnificent way of explaining how we will measure the individual’s credentials when we are finally free of the shackles of college.

  3. Tom,
    Having experimented now for several months with a few of the recent tools that capture physical measurements (Jawbone UP, Fitbit Flex, Withings Pulse, Basis, and several iPhone apps), my reaction is that we still have a very long way to go just to get consistent, reliable, and useful physical data. Maybe the cognitive will come easier?

  4. Exactly how I see it. Thank you for sharing & confirming my views. “Sometimes” I feel ahead of Time. Sometimes…Timeless.

  5. FuturistSpeaker


    Yes, we have a long ways to go, but the number of players in this space (and exhibiting at CES) has grown exponentially over the past year. The number of Kickstater projects has also jumped dramatically.

    Today’s tech is very primitive compared to what it’ll be in 5 years.

    Thomas Frey

  6. FuturistSpeaker


    Thanks for weighing in on this. Even though many like yourself are looking forward to this, the academic world is certainly not.

    My fear is being accused of being anti-college which I’m not. But there are so many indicators currently in place, this new direction seem quite obvious.

    Thomas Frey

  7. FuturistSpeaker


    We must be on the same wavelength. Thanks for your comments.

    Thomas Frey

  8. Gavin

    As much as I enjoy future technology dreaming, I’m not sure I like the idea of reducing people down to a number.

    Seems like it could result in humanity losing sight of what is really important. Humans are more than pure logic, we need technology to fit in with us not the other way round.

  9. FuturistSpeaker


    Well said, but I actually see this as a better way of illustrating our uniqueness. If anything, our current systems are dehumanizing, painting us with broad brushstrokes, making us fit into boxes on a form. While everything is subject to things going terribly wrong, I still think the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages.

    Thomas Frey

  10. There is a deep distrust of contemporary education and it’s ability to identify and develop talent, especially as it relates to the exponentially increasing pace of technology. As the value of time increases in business, due to the speed of competition to market, so will the need for a workforce that can “hit the ground running”. This reality is making mentorship at a younger age much more important. I think this article is spot on with the suggestion that true gauging of character and emotional intelligence can only happen through mentorship and human observation. The importance of the human element cannot be overstated enough. Well written and certainly food for thought!

  11. Len

    All of what you speak of here, in my understanding, is possible for anyone to do right now. It is really about the power of the mind, (the brain is only a tool), to create any reality that we want. We have spent so much time using our brain to study, instead of using our brain as a tool to advance our minds. And study is important, but study to increase the way we think. Everyone wants to feel secure….and there is really only one way to feel secure, and that is to absolutely know that we create our own reality. And once we know that, it is heaven on earth. This does require a tremendous amount of work and a constructive belief system for every individual.

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