About 150 years from now.
Brain Computer Interface (BCI) has completely changed society. Seamless integration with computers and AI makes enhanced people capable of complex, parallel thought beyond the limits of the biological brain. Still humans retain creativity, intuition, motivation which AIs lack.
In this reality AIs are not self aware. They are a very much evolved version of what we have now. While they may look magical to the uneducated they are just a great tool for the BCI doted humans, they have evolved to be like that.
With BCI notions are immediately available through the interface. But thinking still has to be learned. One thing is to instantly know the atomic weight of lead and all its properties another is to elaborate that information in a useful way for the task at hand. Interaction with specially trained AIs allows to experiment within the boundaries of known science at an extremely fast pace. New tools and educational games are constantly developed for the 'BCs' as people with BCI are often referred to (sometimes in a derogatory way).
Still the majority of mankind can not afford BCI. These students' way of learning is more similar to ours although helped through special AIs. Students hardly ever read books anymore because it's largely inefficient. A student in chemistry may follow the video lesson of the teacher then perform an experiment through tutorials. Using tools that show different outcomes of chemical processes. All the while guided by expert AIs. Learning is way more effective than ours.
The outcome in society is that BCs work together with AIs at the higher ranks. Non BCI citizens work following the directions of BCs or AIs.
In this context am trying to visualize how would universities look like. By this I mean the actual physical buildings. While most teaching activities are going to be done over the network many faculties still need real location to host devices, to run experiments and so on.
- they have the same purpose of today: forming young adults into highly skilled professionals. In the future some of their graduates may be in a position of reshaping society through theoretical science, technology, politics, etc.
- they are spread in a network even over different continents. Each node of the network will host multiple faculties. To follow the story we will focus on a 'node' which hosts scientific faculties of a prestigious (thus well funded) university. For all we know the faculty of Philosophy may be 100% virtual.
- have a marked distinction between students with BCI and those without. Students without BCI will be unable to reach the higher levels of a profession. E.g a University professor must have a BCI. Courses and exams are segregated. Non BCI students courses and show of qualifications are only a fraction of the BCs.
- do field research, in its broadest meaning. While the faculty of Philosophy may not even need waste baskets the Physics and Engineering departments will operate complex devices. Some of them may be outside the city where the university is located but others are still going to be on site (e.g. to test properties of materials, to experiment at peculiar conditions of pressure and temperature and so on).
- they are largely funded by the State. While students will still pay fees that cover a part of the running costs (somewhere around 30-40%) government funding will cover remaining running costs plus setup. By setup I mean for instance the cost of building construction, setting up a new laser, putting in orbit an experimental satellite, etc. Several projects are also funded by private companies.
- they compete with one another. In the quality and amount of research and number and capability of the students that obtain a degree. Highly regarded universities attract more funds, more students, better professors and private investors.
- AIs reside on servers and are shared over the network. The servers for smaller universities are hosted by private companies. Larger ones have their own facilities.
How would the building(s) of a university 'node' look like? Efficiency should be the driving factor. Tradition is not important. Anything that can be made virtual would have no reason to be there. Please note that am not talking about style. Rather what elements we see in universities today will disappear? which new ones will emerge?
Do not consider elements that would be peculiar of a specific research facility (e.g. a telescope dome, a refinement tower, refrigeration cells and so on).
UPDATE 30th August
As stated in some of the replies the question should define better the kind of technology set for the story.
This society is not a post-scarcity society. Resources still have to be obtained through due processing of raw materials.
Energy is produced at a low cost but is not free. Imagine 10-20% of our cost today.
A tech to produce elements is available. It's expensive though. It's applied only for elements that are too expensive to be obtained from nature. A breakthrough in this field, either by allowing production of more different materials or by lowering needed energy, would have massive economic implications.
Hydrocarbons are still used for production of synthetic materials but not for fuel anymore (save for some niche production for vintage vehicles)
AIs are as defined above: extremely complex and efficient but not sentient. AIs in the last 30 years have evolved to integrate seamlessly with BCI.
AIs can program other AIs. Mostly AI development is done by teams made up by AIs and BCI users.
BCI have been available for more than 30 years. In the beginning they were extremely expensive (on par to the cost of a luxury house more or less by today standard) but over time they have become more affordable (let's say the cost of a luxury car).
Virtual Reality plays a big role. Is widely used for work, teaching, entertainment, social events, etc. Both BCI users and non BCI (nBCI, thank you for the term) users spend considerable time in VR. BCI users have an enhanced experience. For instance they can taste a glass of Bordeaux wine that feels 100% like the real thing but at a fraction of the cost. nBCI don't have this possibility.
This means that many jobs consist in modeling VR experiences through AI assisted programs. See also this question:
How can we limit or avoid addiction to virtual reality in a technologically advanced society?
Network coverage is almost ubiquitous.
Space exploration is active but plays a minor role in the economy (and in the story). There are scientific outposts in the solar system (both manned and unmanned) but no colonies. Getting raw materials from space is in most case too expensive. There are anyway some (mainly unmanned) mining facilities.
They do have more efficient hydrogen based rockets.
No FTL technology.
Robot production is very active. Robots are mainly driven by off board AIs but can be also controlled by BCI users as an extension of their own body.
Scientific research is active. AIs have proved that society will not be able to sustain itself as it is. The end is not near but scientific breakthroughs are needed. Thinking 'out of the box' is highly sought after and extremely well paid.
AIs have allowed to understand better the complex interactions of whole biospheres. This had led the development of technologies to the advantage of both the environment and human activities.
BCI studies allowed to understand in detail how our brain works. Biochemical engineering is very advanced.
Nanotechnology: it does not play a role in the story. We can say it is developed and used in some specific fields (like medicine). I have not yet worked out about it but would prefer to keep it low key in the story. The focus is really on BCI-AI
Most people use VR to work. This also means less people need to move around. Traffic is mainly made up of automatic vehicles on delivery service. It would be a common sight to see a "mothership" truck to drive around a neighborhood with drones taking off from it to deliver in the nearby high-raises. All houses / apartments have their own safe for delivery pickup.
May also be relevant: Society is a semi-democracy made up by:
- Oligarchs: they own the AIs (and much else)
- Higher end citizens: these can afford a BCI and will get the higher paying job by working together with AIs.
- Middle class citizens: they can not afford BCI. With university education they may be in a position to work in a team lead by BCs. A few of them may still be in a position to improve their position by thinking out of the box and proposing new ideas to be developed.
- Lower class citizens: they can not afford university education. They can afford VR though. Usually lower end technicians, managed by AIs, who work together / for / with robot units.
- Outcasts: well, they just live by subsides, side tricks and VR. They are marked as freeVR in a derogatory way. Access is denied to them in most places.