The World We’re Educating For…..

…… or rather, the world we should be educating for, but aren’t because we’re dithering and having endless discussions about whether new ideas in education can statistically be proven to raise particular arbitrary educational markers/ scores (in other words, those who want to block change and progress choose the outcome to be measured and then condemn the change because it doesn’t move the marker they chose adequately!

And, in the meantime, while educators sit around debating these things the world is changing at a pace that is getting faster and faster. Don’t believe me, or think I’m being sensationalist? I would ask you to check out the following two videos – recent documentaries.

Particularly, the first comes from The Economist – hardly an organisation that can be condemned for overblown lack of realism. it looks at the future of work.

And the second, looks at some of the latest developments happening in robotics, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and the move in to a new digital age. There have been false dawns in many of these areas before. Writers and commentators first started to really talk about the implications of technology and the changed life as we develop ‘intelligent systems’ in the 1950’s and 60’s. When little really materialised other than a few novelty products, people lost interest. Then, again, in the 90’s there was renewed interest, but again what materialised wasn’t life changing enough to seep in to most people’s consciousness.

However, this time, there’s more than enough evidence that things are very different. However, because of the history, vast proportions of people – especially in the developed countries – sit like the proverbial frogs in the pan of boiling water, oblivious to what’s happening around them.

More after the video ……………………..

As educators we have to acknowledge that this stuff is massive. In the short term we need to be preparing young people in vast numbers with the skills, resilience and self driven motivation to succeed in the gig economy, even though the gig economy may prove to have just been a stepping stone on the way to something way bigger.

Already, in developed countries there are politicians and other commentators prepared to begin to have hard conversations about what might need to happen to support people in a world where less people are needed to make everything happen. There are going to be vast numbers of people who will become ‘surplus to requirements’. Now the developed countries know that their history over the last 20-30 years as the de-industrialised (as industry moved more to developing countries) they didn’t do a good job of retraining people, helping them to reposition themselves to a changed society. This could be more severe in those countries if there is nothing new to reposition many of those people to.

As a result, some countries are already carrying out experiments in what they have chosen to call “universal income” or some other similar name. What it amounts to is harnessing the enormous revenues that will be generated by technology and using them to pay a standard minimum income to every citizen of the country (we can also see in these circumstances why some countries are getting particular now about who is in and who is out, i.e. immigration).

That might provide the solution in terms of making sure that people rendered workless (I think we need to stop using the word jobless) can at least feed themselves and manage the basic fundamentals of life. However, it doesn’t even begin to address issues of how all those people will adjust to infinite leisure (although i believe there’s a connection here to willingness to legalise cannabis in many countries), personal aspiration and ambition. In the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we would need to adjust to a vast proportion of populations for whom the upper parts of the hierarchy would be a no-go zone.

For educators, planners and others willing to look seriously at the future in developing countries there are potentially far bigger challenges and issues. Taking the example of India, there are certain types of jobs and work that have played the biggest part in lifting enormous numbers of people out of poverty. In turn, many of those areas of work have acted as gateways for some of the people to use their newfound skills and abilities to transition higher up the food chain to more higher-value-added work with higher earnings.

India still has enormous numbers living in poverty. There are still millions employed inefficciently in an agrarian sector that must modernise to be efficient and effective. At the same time the country still has a high birth rate and the high birth rate of the last 20 years sees vast numbers of youngsters (graduates and non graduates) becoming available for the workforce. However, what happens if vast numbers of them are simply not needed? I believe the current unemployment data in India is already showing the effects of jobs dwindling in areas like medical transcription, call centres, back office processing etc. As i said before, these types of jobs have been a significant engine for lifting large numbers in to the Indian middle class.

Plainly, if there is going to be a massive unemployment issue in the world, countries like India will not have the resources to be able to contemplate universal income. Worse, as the situation works through, the relatively small numbers who do have the high end skills and abilities in technical fields are likely to be enticed by selective immigration in to developed countries.

I’m not sure anyone yet has the answers to these issues. What concerns me most is that i’m not sure the issues are being discussed fully, transparently and openly. There are challenges ahead and people need to work together to resolve them. Educators need to be at the front as full and active participants in these debates, so as to speak for their pupils but also to further refine their own understanding of the changing needs young people have from the education system in order to figure out how to meet those needs.

Educators – Keep Up With the Future

For educators it’s so obvious that it’s not often enough acknowledged that our professional work is all about preparing young people for the future. We know, deep down, that when we preside over forms of education that don’t take full and effective notice of the future, however uncertain, are a failure to fulfill our duty and responsibilities to our students.

Especially in the field of technology and particularly technological changes’ impacts on society there is a reality that once something new comes to the public consciousness there is a tendency to over-anticipate the impact in the short term and under-estimate the long term impact. one of the results of this is that people’s first reaction to something like Artificial Intelligence is to get very excited, but then when they don’t see immediate impact in their own lives personally they downgrade their expectations to the point of disregarding the long term impacts for them. When those long term impacts arrive, too often people aren’t adequately prepared and there may even be anger as the effects take over.

So, as educators today in a world that sees the timeframes of change getting shorter and shorter we have a great need to keep up our understanding of future changes and to be actively engaged in the debates and discussions about their implications for the lives of our pupils. And, incidentally, this is not just important for the science teachers, though the excitement and anticipation of what’s possible in the future can certainly play a big part in motivating students to pursue the sciences and to be interested and excited to learn.

However, my experience is that too often teachers struggle for sources of good, up to date and informed information. I believe educators could do a lot worse than to follow the work of Mr Peter Diamandis.

Peter DiamandisPeter Diamandis 2S

Who is Peter Diamandis? He’s best known for being founder and Chairman of the X-Prize, as well as being the co-founder of the California based Singularity University (with Ray Kurzweil). Between them they have access to inside knowledge on the changes taking place in many major areas of invention, innovation and those areas where change is going to have the biggest impact in the future.

In January 2020, along with Steven Kotler, will be publishing a new book – The Future is Faster Than You Think. In the run up to the book coming out he’s sharing excerpts from the book weekly through a fascinating and some amazing email newsletters. In the last few months Diamandis has been blowing my mind with amazing and very understandable (for a non scientist) information on the current forces that are changing our world; 5G, 3D Printing, expansion of the mind, VR, AR, Artificial Intelligence, future of food, sensors, health and wellbeing,

Here’s Peter Diamandis himself summing up some of these issues and their implications at the annual conference at Singularity University:

 

One of the best ways for teachers and educators to keep up is to subscribe to his email newsletters, starting with ‘Abundance Insider’ – full details at his website:

Peter Diamandis Website

To finish, if Diamandis is right about even half of his predictions, and particularly the timescales, then we are looking at an amazing and exciting decade ahead. Such a time of phenomenal change offers enormous opportunities for our students but also poses challenges for those ‘left behind.’ We need to be informed.

Relating With Artificial Intelligence

When technology brings seismic changes in our world, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed, to struggle to see the wood from the trees and to maintain a rational perspective.

In the last week or so, we’ve seen very clear evidence. Out of nowhere, we all (well, those who exist in the digital world!) became aware of an AI based mobile phone app that claimed to apply a filter to see what a person will look like as they age. Apparently, it had been around a while, but this time it caught on virally, even with celebrities diving in to share pictures of themselves aged. Whole sports teams got the treatment and it shot to number one free download on both Apple Appstore and Google Playstore.

Then came the hangover after the initial excesses as numerous ‘experts’ came forward to share a few facts skirted over by the over zealous users. The company owning Faceapp is Russian – that’s always good to create a few scary bogeymen. Then, they pointed out that the terms and conditions essentially meant that users were handing over absolute rights for ever in their personal photos to the company. It also led to renewed concerns and debate about other Apps like TikTok.

This whole digital universe is so new, so novel and yet so ubiquitous that people really haven’t worked out their relationships with it.  For all the privacy concerns expressed, the reality is that digital photos and our own digital representation have little or no protection already. It’s the work of seconds for a child to copy and save any photo of any person from a website, a news site or a social networking platform. Can any of us really say we ‘own’ our visual images any more? We’ve seen similar in the past with digital music and video. Young people who would have said it was plainly immoral to walk in to a shop to steal a CD or a DVD have thought nothing of downloading enormous quantities of music, film etc. So, is it really any different? These people wouldn’t walk in to your home to steal your holiday snaps you just picked up from the developers, but somehow copying and pasting or saving your photos online doesn’t feel like theft – not really.

As a society we have to be open to having the deeper debates about implications and meaning.  For example, the ‘copy and paste’ culture is already a major headache for education – but one that gets little discussion on any serious level. If people come to have a lesser view on the ownership of anything that is put out in to the digital domain, then all sorts of issues arise about the ownership, copyright and protection of the written word. Just as debates raged in the music world – if people can take your creative output, use it, enjoy it, even pass it off as their own then where is the incentive to produce new creative work? In addition, in education, if a student can cobble together an essay in 20 minutes with bits and pieces mashed together by cut and paste from a handful of websites, then what, if any, learning is happening? There is little or no engagement with the content with the result that the student has done little to establish their own knowledge or understanding. But, even in the face of software solutions (such as Turn It In) to attempt to prevent plagiarism, there are major issues about academic honesty. Yet, still today, relatively few educational institutes have engaged with the hard tasks of establishing workable principles on academic honesty, let alone establish the trust environment in which all parties accept that it’s in their own best interests not to engage in such practices.

Getting back to FaceApp, there are further issues. Especially over the last year, we’ve all been regaled with copious verbiage about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications in the world in the very near future. There is a serious danger that when the manifestation of AI in people’s experience is a silly face morphing software the reaction will be, “Oh, is that all we’re being told to worry about?” AI will be seen with ambivalence as something occasionally, mildly amusing and not as the behemoth that is going to sweep through almost every aspect of life like a tidal wave. People in positions of power, authority and leadership should be in deep introspection about potential implications and how they need to respond within their spheres of influence to help people to prepare for what’s ahead.

The most serious implications of AI are not somewhere uncertain out in the future. Some of them are already having an impact right now and raising challenging questions about how AI will change the nature of power in society, freedom and civil liberties and even life and death. In China (a country that assumes a greater and greater significance in the world as geopolitical power shifts to Asia from the West) we are seeing extensive use of AI in the areas populated by Uighurs. These are indigenous people in a large region of China who identify themselves as muslim. They’ve long suffered persecution and unfair treatment. But today, AI is being harnessed to spy on them, to find ‘reasons’ to collect potentially millions of them in concentration camps for ‘re-education.’ They are essentially being indoctrinated to become obedient and compliant citizens of China who will give up any inclinations to see themselves as different.

Elsewhere in China there are forms of experiments being carried out to harness AI as a major vehicle in programmes of manipulation and control of the citizens. People are tracked, monitored and identified with vast arrays of face recognising cameras. The system identifies those who “do good” and gives them incentives and rewards. Those identified “doing bad” can be punished in all kinds of ways. On a massive scale it amounts to a process of harnessing technology for mind control and the creation of a subservient, compliant and passive citizenry who can be controlled in almost every aspect of their lives. Of course, there are all sorts of questions about what gets defined as good or bad behaviour, and by whom. This is reality and once it’s been harnessed in one country there’s no reason why governments elsewhere can’t adopt at least some more subtle elements to increase their control and power over the population.

The rapid increase in use of AI is going to change the fundamental nature of the relationship between man and machines, especially in the arena of work. Vast swathes of jobs will disappear – most notably those that require precise actions to carry out predictable and consistent actions with little variability. As yet, society has no real answers for how to retrain those displaced from work so as to remain economically productive. In vast parts of Asia and Africa in the last 30 years millions have been lifted out of poverty by the shift of millions of jobs of low and semi-skilled nature. In this time birth rates have remained high and so, for example, in India there is still unemployment conservatively well over 10%. The jobs that were flowing to the East are the very jobs that AI is likely to undermine. As yet, we still have no simple answers for how society will respond to these issues.

One final word on FaceApp. It doesn’t seem to have mattered very much to anyone that the software actually seems, as far as I can see, to be useless and poor in what it claims to do. Does anyone recognise the person in the picture below?

Faceapp copy

No, I don’t recognise him either. Nor, I’m sure would my mother or any other relatives. Which is kind of odd considering this is what FaceApp believes I looked like when i was younger!

So, if it can be so wildly wrong in figuring what a person looked like when younger, why should we take at all seriously what they predict we’ll look like when older in the future?

So, all just a silly storm in a Russian chipped teacup? Let’s not get diverted from the real issues of AI by such nonsense.

From Flat, to Fast, to Deep

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman wrote “The World is Flat”, a book that had a massive impact when it came to people’s understanding of the world, economics, globalisation and the forces that were shaping the world and how that shaping was likely to emerge in the future. He also went on to write other books, such as “Hot, Flat and Crowded” looking at the environment, impact of population growth and global warming. These days he writes for the New York Times, especially on foreign affairs and issues of globalisation.

Recently, he sat down for a very interesting interview discussion with James Manyika, Chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to embed the interview video here, but the link here will take you directly to it.

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The work that Friedman does entails gazing in to the future and trying to predict where we’re headed. it’s far from an exact science, so inevitably he’s been, at times, subject to a fair share of criticism. Nevertheless, he’s also been very good at predicting certain trends.

As educators, our task principally is to prepare young people for the future. Also, there are many questions that students have about what’s currently happening in the world and it’s important that teachers are equipped to respond intelligently and in an informed manner.

If we look at the views of commentators like Stephen Pinker there’s never been a better time to be alive. The world is becoming a better and better place to live. Admittedly, he can point to enormous strides in recent years in the reduction of absolute poverty in the world, improvements in numbers and proportion of children getting education, reductions in child mortality, reduced levels of deaths through war and conflict.

However, especially for those living in the West it’s hard to believe in this positive message. There’s growing anger and disaffection, especially among the middle classes. For the first time in a long time, we see life expectancy creeping down in countries like the US, we see a young generation who almost certainly will not achieve the wealth levels of their parents and middle classes whose real wealth levels are in decline as wages stagnate and real costs of living rise (all exacerbated by beliefs about what represents minimal living standards).

This anguish is manifested through more extreme polarisation of political attitudes, rise of extremists and demands to roll back globalisation in favour of protectionism. Instead of embracing the benefits of open trade, the inclinations are now towards erecting real and virtual barriers, walls and restrictions.

In the interview Friedman talks of the anguish of people acting out their humiliation and questing for dignity. For a blue collar middle class worker in Britain or USA the fact that children aren’t dying as often in Africa, or the resurgence of Asian economies don’t matter a jot when they feel they’re robbed of the promised riches of ‘the American dream’ that they believe was theirs by birthright. Ironically, I suspect that economic progress in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is the very best possibility for those people in the longer term as it will slow down the natural flows of those who feel the need to migrate. Finding more than adequate opportunities at home, they’ll feel less need to head west.

Rightly, Friedman highlights the significance and need for leadership in these times.

Worth a watch.

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