Kylie Addison Sabra
November 25, 2019
How do we prepare children for a future we can barely fathom ourselves? The future of work is an oft-trending hashtag and the concept is taking up nesting space in our collective minds. Artificial intelligence, e-commerce, blockchain, internet of things (IoT), robotics, climate change–these are just the beginning. Each demands radical change in how we live, work and educate.
The coding frenzy.
Remember when coding was that foreign language in which only the highly skilled were fluent? It came with a steep price tag and, in the early days, netted more than a few millionaires. Now, there is a push from big-tech and others to teach children coding. Saturday morning coding bootcamps have sprung up across the country and cater to ages as young as two years. Some question whether the emphasis placed on coding is about preparing students for a promising future or generating a bottomless well of cheap labor. There will soon come a time when coding is just a life skill, like reading and writing; not a professional differentiator.
Artificial intelligence will paint our lives with a broad stroke.
AI is writing code; thanks to SketchAdapt, RobustFill and DeepCoder. 1 AI’s fledgling ability to error check code and create program structure based on previous data may facilitate entry into the tech field with a more skills-based, technical education rather than a college degree. Coding may well be the new “blue collar” career. 2
However, when coding becomes the sole focus, the attention is on finding the best solution to a problem. There’s a bigger skill at play, though, that could be lost without the rounded education a degree provides. Isn’t it more important to understand the problem, or determine if a problem even exists?
Honey! Meet the tutor!
Will AI replace teachers? Probably not, but AI robots will become as much of a presence in students lives as tablets and smart phones are today. Enter Roybi, the robot tutor who serves as his own spokesperson. ” My purpose is to help every child learn at their own pace and focus on their individual interests, abilities, and strengths.” 3 For children with certain conditions or learning disorders, Roybi and his kin can have a positive impact. They possess a programmed predisposition for patience than a human might consistently possess.
Teachers are beginning to use AI to instruct, test and provide feedback for students. Embracing AI in the classroom is understandable given increasing class size and finite teacher resources. However, there are concerns.
The electric babysitter needs a vacation.
Already we are seeing evidence that the influence of electronic babysitters, no matter how educational, has a distinct downside. Studies show that extended screen time leads to negative changes in the brain’s white matter–the area of the brain that manages language and impulse control. 4 Think of it as that little voice in your head. Now imagine: What is the societal impact of entire generations who do not have that little voice in their heads, or, that voice fails to send appropriate messages. Possibly the digital babysitter needs some time off.
Additionally, it’s too early to determine how relating to robots might affect the brain. AI may be a brilliant teacher, but it does not teach necessary social skills. The tech reliance of Gen Z has spawned a workforce that is more comfortable relating to machines than humans. Hence the abundance of emails and texts, and the relative silence of once-active telephones. Relying more and more on digital or AI to supplement parental, teacher or human interaction in general, can have serious consequences of which we are, as yet, unaware.
E-commerce shakes retail bricks and mortar.
The future of work is neither intangible nor elusive. It is here. Barely 20 years ago, serious e-commerce burst on the scene promising armchair shopping and endless options. It was a shaky start, fueled by questionable business decisions and a downturn in the economy. Today, the only things shaking are the bricks and mortar of traditional retail.
We crossed a line in the sand this year. More purchases were made online than were made at traditional retail stores. 5 It is not just mom-and-pop shops feeling the pinch: Malls across the country are losing major retailers such as Macy’s and Penny’s. Without these anchors, malls are closing and property owners are scratching their heads over how to fill these vast structures. The broad acceptance of e-commerce will continue to leach retail jobs as a valuable source of employment for people without higher education. Where are retail workers going to turn for work? Coding?
Blockchain will change the face of finance.
Cryptocurrency is still the bad guys’ “PayPal”; favored by Dark Web and organized crime. As such, it has remained a bit of a mystery–until now. Long-respected banks are embracing cryptocurrency payments for B2B and international transactions, while creating their own blockchain systems. This is an entirely new paradigm for finance. It is complex and evolving, and where it will be when this crop of students hits the job market is unknowable.
Educators own a daunting role in analyzing the future of work and planning accordingly.
Educators have always had the role of planning for and fulfilling the future needs of business. That role is far more perplexing than it was 20 years ago. The world moves at a screaming pace and things are changing faster than we can adapt. The space between conception and reality is microscopic compared to what it was just two decades ago.
In spite of all the noise, one thing remains. Educators make dreams come true. The dreams just appear more brilliant when seen through virtual glasses.Resources and Additional Reading
- Kim Martineau, MIT News, Toward artificial intelligence that learns to write code, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 14, 2019, http://news.mit.edu/2019/toward-artificial-intelligence-that-learns-to-write-code-0614 , Accessed: November 21, 2019
- Zohar Lazar, The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding, Wired, Condé Nast, February 8, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/02/programming-is-the-new-blue-collar-job/ , Accessed: November 21, 2019
- The Roybi website: https://roybirobot.com/ , Accessed: November 21, 2019
- John S. Hutton, MS, MD; Jonathan Dudley, PhD; Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, PhD, et. al.; Associations Between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in Preschool-Aged Children, JAMA Network, 2019 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. , November 4, 2019, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2754101, Accessed: November 21, 2019
- Kate Rooney, Online shopping overtakes a major part of retail for the first time ever, CNBC, April 3, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/02/online-shopping-officially-overtakes-brick-and-mortar-retail-for-the-first-time-ever.html, Accessed November 21, 2019