Monday, November 4, 2013

Education can't create the real high-skill of the future: imagination

Ancient languages reconstructed by computer program

A new tool has been developed that can reconstruct long-dead languages.

Researchers have created software that can rebuild protolanguages - the ancient tongues from which our modern languages evolved.

Currently language reconstructions are carried out by linguists - but the process is slow and labour-intensive.

Another esteemed profession, this time linguistics, is being made less esteemed by the advance of technology. Linguists have actual skill, so it makes sense they have traditionally been esteemed. Speaking of technology, today all we hear is that America needs to "invest in education" so that our countrymen can compete in the 21st Century. But increasingly, the workforce of the 21st Century doesn't involve our humans or anyone else's. Both low-skill AND high-skill jobs are feeling the bite of automation.

The journalism job market (another prestige profession) has been hemorrhaging for years thanks to the Internet revolution. How long can the education cartels hold off a similar onslaught from online academies? Of course no one will miss the thousands of malevolently worthless college professors made obsolete by technology; the tweedbots with elbow patches on their toupee who always sound like they're in the middle of a sneeze as they spew another hollow lecture on Applied Applications.

But it won't just hit the professors who teach twaddle. The fact that online classrooms can teach so many students at once (and at such a low cost, a trend that is going to be hard for the cartels to hide as tuition inflation continues attracting attention) also lessens the need for professors of real subjects like engineering.

Education is a cure-all word that everyone uses for every situation. What many don't grasp is that just because someone is educated doesn't mean he can synthetize info. If all he can do is memorize and regurgitate info., even high-skill info., he isn't going to be as secure as you might think. That's because we have computers (and robots) who can do that. Robotic humans - no matter how many degrees they have - are likely to be eminently replaceable.

Focusing on education is all fine and dandy, but education does not equal imagination. The folks who will survive will be the ones whose real high skill is idea generation, because so far, AI hasn't perfected brainstorming robots (yet). Picasso's quote still holds true (for now). Many of today's well-educated, well-paid, high-skill, low-imagination workers could become tomorrow's secretaries (or temps). All the education in the world couldn't protect American engineers from the outsourcing revolution.

Thanks to the speedy advance of technology, it seems there is going to be less need for everyone. The anthem for computers and robots will be "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better". If there is to be any role for non-cyborg humans, it will be for those with imagination. So if you have kids, teach them to daydream.

My Twitter feed is still crafted with human hands:

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