The setting:
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.
  • $\begingroup$ 99% of today's technology was created in the last 150 years. It's difficult to imagine what humanity will create in the next 150 years. We could imagine the direct-to-brain training system imagined by L. Ron Hubbard in *Battlefield Earth," after which the idea of a university is basically irrelevant. We could imagine that such tech can't exist, but holographic comms are, in which case universities are a small group of offices with small classrooms where the professor stands to teach and all the students are at home watching him. (*continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 28, 2020 at 23:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I believe you need to be very (very) specific about the tech of your world for us to answer a question like this, because organizations like this are 98% dependent on the technology that supports them. The only reason the universities of today look anything like the the universities of 300 years ago is because we're still using chalkboards (or similar with ink and/or video) and printed text books. Early in my engineering career I was taking classes via video link - that was 30 years ago. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 28, 2020 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH you make a valid point. The question was already so long I was hesitant to post it as is. Indeed the question may be too broad. I'll update it defining better the world tech and the job market. Also some of the answers are spot on. Normal people are seeing a grim future. And they dont like it at all. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2020 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ Videos are not superior to books. Some students learn better with one, some with the other. The lab may remain the same, but whether the student watches a video or reads a book will depend on how the student learns. (What's the point of having each student work alone if they all are doing the identical thing?) $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Aug 29, 2020 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ 4 answers and 0 upvotes! Folks who answered this: if it is good enough to answer it is good enough to upvote. Give some love to people who post questions you find interesting! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 29, 2020 at 14:25

4 Answers 4


Not a whole lot different, really.

Tradition is very important to humans and especially within academia. There's a reason why scholars wear academic robes, at least for official purposes, for example.

I'd argue that much of the architecture of BCI integrated university will be largely the same as an early 21st century university. As you say, not everyone is linked in, so some segment of the population is going to have to learn the old fashioned way (A/V type online mixed with in person learning). Both BCI and nBCI students are going to have to struggle with the hands-on aspects of their chosen disciplines. As you say, it's one thing to have knowledge implanted into your brain, but it's quite another to know what to do with that knowledge! So, for example, chemistry lab is still going to be held in RM4101, with its 300 year old soapstone benches and graffiti marked wooden drawers where students can keep their assigned beakers and rubber policemen. Nursing students are still going to have to practice assessments and procedures on actual patients.

I'd argue, though, that for the BCI students, especially in the "soft sciences", courses will almost certainly not be lecture based. Having already absorbed the factual matter, the texts, students of philosophy, of theology, of anthropology, of literature, of art, will be freed to go back to the early days of the university when it was more about discussion and disputation, when it was a place to learn to think rather than a place to learn facts that you should have learned in high school. And it may also be something like that for the physics and exotic chemistry students: a place where breakthroughs can be accomplished by students and practitioners hashing out problems and solutions.

One thing that people 150 years from now will be is every bit as social as we've always been. We really do need to be in the company of other people; we crave relationship. I don't think direct brain to computer connexions are going to change that fundamental. Therefore, the university will continue to be a physical location where learning & formation occur. The level at which this can be done I think would be much higher.

The main difference, I think, would be the expanded structures to house the BCI infrastructure.

  • $\begingroup$ Rubber policemen? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Aug 29, 2020 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker -- Yep. Part of standard first year chemistry student's kit. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 30, 2020 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ OK. But what are they? I've never heard the term. $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Aug 30, 2020 at 2:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker - Ah. Policemen are various tools used in lab for scraping bits of precipitate from glassware. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 30, 2020 at 14:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake -- As per my response to John, yes I absolutely think it would apply to other sciences as well. If you come to uni already to engage the thinking mind, having already filled your BCI connected brain with fact, you can basically hit the ground at the masters level, if not doctorate. They might even be able, with a uni of the right perspective and right founding principles, come to an understanding of the fundamental unity of astronomy, cosmology, theology, chemistry, physics, and biology. They may even be able to rise to the next level of science. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 2, 2020 at 16:19

An important function and reason for uni is the job market. But you introduced enhanced people, EP from now on, and this ruins everything.


150 years in the future I highly doubt physical labor will be anything at all. And I highly doubt humans will fit into anything in society. Will the tools of the trades still be the wrench and sickle and oil and all that?

Think of a pilot, engineer, factory worker, police officer, lawyer...etc.

And then think will they exist if you imagine your world?

Probably not. A sophisticated AI will pilot the plane with 0 chances of errors. EP engineers will think with the speed of light and be able to do and fix all sort of thing in a manner of minutes.

Think of how a human mechanic needs to examine a car as opposed to an assisted AI running the workshop and controlling 99% of the machines. It will issue millions of orders to the little robot/machines/whatever to fix the car while also fixing a 100 other cars all in the time it too you to grab a cup of coffee.

Even an advanced enough AI can completely replace lawyers. Maybe the police will require a human touch but replace most policing with advanced drones and have a couple of human officers in the area and that's it.

Will we need to go the doctor?

Probably a single advanced scanning machining will know what is wrong with you and simply give you the medication or send you to other machines to do more tests.

Your EP will supervise, run, handle, fix, improve, and overall be the sole care takers of those advances stuff because a human can't handle 20 at once.

So what hope a human chemist or mathematician or architect...etc can have? Only true genius will have an edge as they won't be as fast or as knowledgeable but they will innovate and then their own innovations be passed down to the EP to be further enhanced. So imagine a genius just making something new and then the EP take that thing and improve upon it by like a 500% even in his lifetime.

This is a little history of our own world you know.

Anyway if you simply can't compete with those EP, that is not find a job, then will any sane person go to university?

There is no point of even going to university.

Why would people try to go there?

We are seeing something similar with mega corporations an how they can simply run small stores out of business with their sheer size.

Now make a job market where an EP can do 500% more than a normal human and then you won't find normal humans doing much.

This is not pure speculation as we already seeing a big push to self driving cars, you want to know how many drivers there are in the world?, which will make million of people jobless overnight.

You tried to impose the expense limit but that's not how actual business works. So let me try to provide you with an example I think makes sense. Lets assume company A is thinking about replacing it's drivers with self driving cars. And lets assume that this will cost them several millions. However the return is almost incalculable.

Not only in the obvious ways but even in the economy as you can add another person as a passenger.

However they decide that humans drivers are still a thing and the absurd upfront cost of self driving cars make them non viable option for now.

But company B does just that. They might even be 50% smaller than company A but they commit to self driving cars.

How long will A be out of business after B having something like 0 accidents and saving in money and pleasing their customers and just being a perfect service?

Not long. Now translate that to every single fields.

Make it 10 millions for that unit that a 50K worker can do it's job.

But that unit is kind of immortal and after looking at the numbers it will pay it's cost in 2 years. This is how business works and success accumulate. Matthew effect basically.

Congrats. You drove the entire humans race out of all businesses.

So my point is the your universities will probably be a legacy building where only a handful of institutions exist to satisfy the vanity of the rich and also as government funded places because it's bad to go down in history as the first prime minster/king/president to stop the most prestigious learning institute in the country. The rest can go straight to hell.

Other than that I can't imagine them being anything as big or as influential as today. You simply can't compete with the EP so they might even take a different approach.

Perhaps a bigger focus will be on non stem fields studies. Maybe thinking that music and writing and history and arts and so on are actual valid fields for humans.

Now I think you want something like places where humans can go push the limits of that BCI thing but I think the much larger socioeconomic implications are far more problematic than merely what is the buildings going to look like.

Just my opinion using the parameters giving. I hope it helps.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, but overall wouldn't that be a beneficial thing? You would have essentially created a 'Star Trek' style future without alien technology. Most jobs would be eliminated, but this BCI would create a super efficient economy that could practically meet people's needs and do most jobs that don't require creativity - basically eliminating scarcity $\endgroup$
    – Tyler Mc
    Sep 1, 2020 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus While what you are depicting is a possible outcome this world is not yet there. It is a process going on and it causes strife (that is good for a story). There is still some need for regular humans. For instance: nursing (a human is at the moment of the story still more versatile than any robot, especially when it has to deal with another human being), art restorer (you must be a bit of an artist yourself and feel the artwork), waitress ( a good waitress can make the fortune of a pub. Robo pubs are cheaper yes, but dull). (Continued) $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2020 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ All of them will work together with robot units and a number of other devices, plus they will be directed and monitored by AI + BCs management. Still they are needed because of how versatile and creative human beings can be, if properly trained. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2020 at 19:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TylerMc, Depends on the author I guess. I mean let us be honest. Globally we can 100% eliminate hunger, homelessness, most disease, and provide all humans with a decent level of living. Like won't even mean we dissolve armies and hold hands. Just a healthy dosage of global cooperation. But as we all saw governments, like all of them, are more interested in the same old dirty politic of humanity that has being going on since we gathered in huts and starts society. So I really don't think a good outcome is that assured $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Sep 1, 2020 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake, I'm not arguing. Just talking btw. Maybe. Like the Swiss watches industry. But a true sign of wealth is using 100% robots with super expensive parts. So maybe your higher middle class can afford people for a lot of jobs to an extent. That a good point. The unempoloyment numbers would be very high. Don't forget male depression and a host of social problems. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:10

Okay, let's go for efficiency:

In Frederick Pohl's Starchild (1965), there are no Universities at all. Earth's Planning Machine tells you what you need to know and assigns the tasks you will apply it upon.

  • If you need to communicate frequently with the Machine, you learn it's language mechanese. The learning process takes place in a sensor-effector sheath that creates a virtual reality where the machine can teach you to think in binary using instant punishment.

  • Those who successfully learn both mechanese and to think in binary are rewarded with the Brain Computer Interface, which shares both data and triggers the pleasure centers of the brain. The successful survivors become addicted to communicating with the Machine. The unsuccessful students are salvaged for their body parts.

The only building is the mechanese training center. Successful survivors carry around their small wireless communion box for the BCI on their subsequent learning and tasks. There is no need for any other facility beyond the bunkered banks of computers that make up the Machine itself and it's world-wide reach of interfaces.

All humans are, of course, slaves to the tyrannical Machine. The process of training involves, of course, torturing humans until they behave in ways the Machine wants.

It is efficient...from the Machine's point of view.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting but does not fit in this world. AIs dont rule. Yet. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2020 at 18:50


The most efficient uni will crank out graduates at the minimum standard as quickly as possible, using as little resources as possible, taught by the cheapest professors, in the lowest quality facilities possible. Bci would help with these goals considerably.

An efficient uni will have an unofficial moto of "C's make degrees", extra credit will be deemed as wasteful. "With Honours" would be an upgrade you can pay for.

Because of the bci, you have different streams of students completing the courses at different speeds, this makes economies of scale difficult to achieve, but it gets students out the door quicker, and it means your exam halls and labs can be much smaller. Labs and exams may run 24/7 (assuming no unionized workforce), allowing people to advance as soon as theyve absorbed the minimum amount of material, rather than wait for semester to end. Lectures would be online videos that are updated every decade, so the fewest number of lecturers can be hired.

Research would be a race to the bottom; the uni would try to get the maximum result from the minimum investment. Research would be in mostly safe industries, lots of typing and thinking, minimum risk. Don't want to go too far out the box.

Prestige would be gained and maintained as efficiently as possible, it's more efficient to market a few select success stories as pr exercises than to truly be great.

The overall visuals of this uni would be boring, made from the same common building materials as the rest of the city. No large lecture halls, the minimum facilities required for labs, the minimum classrooms, a small exam hall. If it weren't for the massive photos of their few notable graduates, and cheesy motivational slogans, you couldn't tell it was a uni. Itd be running 24/7 churning out mass produced graduates.

Itd be uninspiring, but efficient.

  • $\begingroup$ That is actually an intereseting idea. Universities that try to cater for lower middle class citizens would try to keep their fee as low as possible and apply the methods you suggest. Having the resources they may even try to entice BCs who are not much willing of putting much effort in their studies. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2020 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind universities make a LOT of money from grants becasue they produce new and exciting research, your university will not be getting any of that funding. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:56

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