I recently read an interesting article (see weblink above) by Jonathan Rochelle. Mr Rochelle is the head of the product management team for Google’s education outreach arm, called Google for Education.
Expert machine programming/AI development helps machines learn and machines (increasingly) help students learn. The question is, will conventional teaching cope?
Without doubt, machine learning is high growth off a low base. With a good deal more investment-return uncertainty, machine-assisted student learning is high growth off a low installation base.
Meanwhile, in the land of traditional education methods, the effectiveness of human teachers in fostering high learning growth from students is experiencing far more sluggish improvement. Some of the reasons arguably include the following (in no particular order):
(1) a lack of agreement inside schools on what’s causing the attainment gap problem. Is it a shortage of the best teachers, or the best teaching practices? Is it the poor parent-school partnership or the lack of school boundaries?
(2) resistance to learning from the students. Students and their parents may have a different view from the school about the best teaching style, or the best learning style for the student. Are teachers, who are passionate about their subject, making it relevant enough to the students’ future lives?
(3) the need to build suitable physical facilities to support student learning. Will far more conventional classrooms need to become computer suites, perhaps with virtual reality apparatus?
(4) budget funding constraints
(5) confusion on the institutions’ own goals (too many targets?).
As online education software increasingly provides a more complete teaching solution in the classroom, what can human educators do? Start planning now for the changeover (move to a variable cost workforce and shorter shelf-life classroom facilities), immerse students in the online systems world (so student graduates can partner with it later) and offer school curriculum choices in subjects that will be slowest to become obsolete i.e. subjects that remain valued by future employers who hire student graduates.
Lastly, how long before the Chinese equivalent of Google matches Google’s audacious plans for transforming global education?
Education and Work
Students stay at school longer, then graduate to do what? Make better and more informed decisions. Decisions on the things that AI can’t or won’t yet do.
People concede that they need the extra education to understand analysis. Year 14 Maths is compulsory.
Jobs open up reconciling and debugging AI systems, until such time as they merge. Counselling, drug rehab and mental health jobs prosper.
Politics and governance
Politics between 2020 and 2030 becomes largely concerned with social wealth distribution. Taxation and investment decisions are reformed.
Political referendums become more prevalent as the technology to host them becomes more cost-effective, but then disappear as governance identifies that issues can’t be resolved piecemeal, but that wholesale ecosystem policy reform is needed.
Hedge fund AI resources are harnessed to government policy making? How? Indirectly via consulting firms and higher education computer resources. Governments commission most complex policy problems to be solved using AI. AI resources are rented as needed to deliver the output.
The serious and super-complex problems become resolved by groups of AI’s acting together. Monitoring systems progressively merge.
Trade becomes less physical movement and more trade credits for the IP on items exported and imported between countries.
AI performs increasingly more of the services that currently occur between people.
Most financial currencies consolidate to align with the half a dozen large trading blocs that emerge.
Celebration of human endeavour is highlighted, tapping the human need to cheer the underdog. e.g. music contests, the Olympics and sports leagues, even as AI controls more of our functioning World.
Basic healthcare receives priority attention. People are actively counselling about healthy lifestyle choices.
Junk food and confectionery companies sponsor medical research into fat cell inhibiting medications and finally succeed, making their profits soar.
Mental health counselling aided by AI diagnostics achieves a quiet revolution, creating a happier but more aware society.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills are undergoing a period of increased emphasis in our schools. Some might argue it’s at the expense of Art subjects. Does it have to be a zero-sum game?
Science hypothesises, experiments and interprets. Art creates directly, with no underlying rules or logic to adhere to. Science is structured simulation. Art is role play and improvisation. To reach human markets (voters or buyers) needs emotion, not just product features. Art and Science should therefore be seen as a partnership.
Secondly, at school, can we engage more students in STEM subjects, by emphasising it as a means to an Art end? Invite students to come on the STEM journey to empower Art.
Thirdly, great science discoveries utilise Psychology and thought experiments. Or sudden leaps of insight (realisations). Great thinking is arguably as much an art as utilising the science.
Do the right thing and be slated?
We can’t prove we are decent, honourable and innocent people. Every day of our lives is a new test. All of us can be mis-read, misunderstood and mistaken. And sometimes are.
‘No good deed goes unpunished’ appears to be a well-worn saying. Our political leaders falter and in doing so, set the tone. Even religion encourages forgiveness for sin. And it expects sin, not sainthood.
Athletes in a sport racked by doping become guilty by association, in a dramatic trial by media. People can be unwittingly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Too-perfect beauty or sound must be from plastic surgery, photoshopped or auto-tuned, we tell ourselves. Employees working from home apparently can’t be trusted by some employers to be productive. Good people can be framed, or their identities stolen. DNA evidence can be planted. Company reputations appear only as good as their last action, not their decades of service, contribution and value generated.
Do we punish uncertainty, even when the right thing happens?
Financial auditors, medical test technicians, oil drillers, weather forecasters, medical imaging experts and structural surveyors can sample and pass opinion but not guarantee certainty. We settle for their professional opinion, only as the lessor of two evils. Insurance assessors can estimate probability, but not guarantee outcome. We pay the premium but resent the price. Juries can look for court evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, but hate the process, rarely finding a perfect set of evidence, or witnesses (I know, I’ve been that juror). Human relationships survive on moral premise,transactional trade, love, blind faith and simmering trust in the meantime.
Added to the potent mix above, education is effective in training us to be critics and sceptics. But does it do enough to inspire all of us to be the best we can be? Shaping us to be critics and sceptics does make progress a bumpy ride for all those lining the journey.
In my experience, it’s the small tributaries of the river, the overlooked pockets, and the unexpected that offer the most value. Whether you’re a traveller, a student, an explorer, a researcher, or an investigator, what is fresh, what’s genuine and what is original, is the stuff outside the mainstream and off the beaten track. Another aid is in joining up our unexpected insights from one ‘tributary’ with those of another. And by holding two opposing ideas or concepts in your head (as a traveller, reflecting on what you see through local values and through your own cultural values is an example of this). In some ways, stating all this is blindingly obvious, but in others, it’s revealing a pathway to the sublime & subtle.
We make progress as a species, as a culture and as individuals, by pushing our buttons. By pushing our boundaries, making improvements and gathering new insights. So far, we’ve done this faster than any other species, except perhaps viruses. And it’s been high-growth-off-a-high-base too.
Is human love more advanced than the love shown in other species? It’s hard for us to see, even when as researchers and nature filmers, we’re looking hard. The love an animal mother shows for its offspring, given its mental and sensory capabilities, is probably just as valid as human love for other people, given our own mental and sensory capabilities. And arguably, we’re more prone to cruelty and indifference than other species too. Especially since our awareness of the World (and the Universe) is so much greater.
Finally, is it wrong to let our children get bored? On the list of wrongness towards children, I doubt it figures in the top ten, although you may disagree. However, given the direction the World is going, we’re going to need to maximise human creativity like never before.
Like for many things, the earlier you start, the more proficient you can become. Perhaps already, we provide:
-too much of too few types of entertainment and
-entertainment without mental challenge,
to the younger generations (and ourselves). As an aside, we arguably produce too much content that simply feeds our basic emotions and prejudices too.
Technology that encourages people:
-to screen out the complexities of life that we should not ignore,
-to screen out the information we need, to make informed decisions with, as parents, as voters and as citizens,
isn’t something to be applauded and worshipped. Instead, we should be critical of it and demand better. All of us, including our kids need to become those critics.
The biggest benefit from organised labour membership is in buying time to invest in retraining. It’s no longer protection from workplace change, or insurance against change.
If wages are being pushed down because the race for automation is being run faster than the race to increase worker productivity, or the race to protect markets from global trade, retrain in something requiring human knowledge, ingenuity, human empathy or personal consultancy, that cannot easily be relocated offshore. An example of each is as follows: cleaner, university researcher, social worker, management consultant.
The owners of businesses likely aren’t interested in choosing between a small number of staff with a union-won set of conditions versus a large labour pool of un-unionised job applicants. Instead, their dilemma is how fast to invest in fully-automated business models.
School teachers may become an endangered species, if it becomes easier for students to gain knowledge directly and cut out the middleman. Future employers will only care about the education standard reached and the relevance to their customers, not the way a school subject was taught.
During the UK general election there was a lot of talk about the pain and unfairness of austerity cuts and the need for welfare-to-work changes to balance the books. Two elephants in the room were worker productivity and housing supply.
Whether you’re a Tory supporter or not, there’s little viable future in getting more UK people into minimum wage jobs to cut the welfare bill, when they cannot meet a rise in the cost of living, their future job is threatened by automation and most of their net wage goes on housing costs. Not to mention higher unemployment elsewhere in Europe encouraging foreign workers to migrate to the UK seeking UK minimum wage jobs.
How about diverting the £100B from Trident to education investment to upskill the current workforce instead?