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Cool Jobs Of The Future And What Our Kids Should Be Learning

Popularity 2Viewed 5714 times 2013-7-24 02:39 |System category:News| Cool, Jobs, The, Future, And

Cool Jobs Of The Future And What Our Kids Should Be Learning.

How Computers And The Internet Make Many Of The Old Jobs Meaningless

     I have weekly sessions of a program we call “Hungryminds” at the local high school. I have a bunch of curious, bright, enthusiastic kids who do not apologise for being a bit ‘nerdy’ in their interests.  We were talking about what they need to learn and what they would like to do when they grow up.

“I’d like to work at a cool job. Be a scientist,” one kid volunteered, “Does that mean I need to be good at math?”

“Yes, I think so. You will likely be able to contribute more and do real interesting work if you are comfortable and enjoy working in math,” I replied.

“I am not good at multiplying fractions!” confessed a student, “I am slow and tend to make many silly mistakes even in simple addition or subtraction. I am not sure I’ll do well in math, though I enjoy it and like to learn it. I sometimes struggle to get things that others seem to easily and quickly.”

“I felt like that too at about your age,” I said, “I still make mistakes in simple calculations occasionally. But the important question is – Do you enjoy figuring things out? Do you enjoy the struggle if you don’t get it straight away?”

“I’d rather type on a computer than write longhand on paper,” said another kid, “my hand hurts writing.”

“Mmm… I see.  At your age, I used to write about 10 times or more than what you do now, all on paper. Had to be neat handwriting or we were penalized. My hands hurt, but were still good. I ruined my hands working on computers within a short while – within 10 years of starting to use them and that is permanent damage,” I replied.

     That set me thinking.

“Did you know, not so long ago, there were people in this world, who were good at writing beautifully, and good at adding numbers - that is all they did and earned a good living, with mansions and many wives? They were cool jobs. Kings and governments employed them, treated them with respect and they were looked up to in society? They were like the multi-millionaires of today then.” I put it to the kids.

“You mean all they did was to simply add and subtract and occasionally multiply or divide numbers and that was their job? Or they simply wrote beautifully whatever someone wanted them to? And they got paid for it?” these kids were a bit surprised.

“Yes. And guess what has happened to their jobs now?” I prodded.

“They are all gone!” This came tinged with surprise.

“Gone where?” I asked, smiling.

“We don’t need them anymore!”

“Do you mean we don’t need to add numbers like that anymore? Or good looking writing anymore? If anything, I think we use numbers more now and we demand the very best-looking fonts and ‘writing’ on paper.” I wanted them to think a bit deeper.

“We have calculators and word-processors now.”

“True. So what used to be a million dollar job has been replaced by a simple calculator or word processor. How much does a calculator cost these days? One with eight digits, the precision of that order was unheard of in those olden days. How much does a word-processor cost?” I pushed further.

“I got a cheap calculator for about nine dollars on sale!” exclaimed one kid.

“Word processors are everywhere, even on my iPod or mobile phone. They are free,” suggested another.

“No, nothing is free. It cost someone money to make the word processor, everyone involved got paid to do it. Sure, the cost to buy a copy is so small, that it can be covered under something else and made to look free,” I said, “But we know we can get one for 50 dollars, say?”

“Sure, we can get a spreadsheet, database and a lot more for 50 dollars,” the students agreed.

“So, what other cool jobs will NOT be gone that way?” I pressed on.

“Engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians,” said one.

“What kind of work would they be doing that will not be automated soon?” I asked.

“One that requires a lot of knowledge…” started one and trailed off as he himself could see what was happening,” Oh, actually the computers these days can store and access more information and knowledge than we can keep in our heads!”

“Bulls-eye!!”  I was thrilled to hear this.

“What are the professions where computers can do better than us?” I asked them.

They thought silently. I decided to lead them.

“Just about anything that can be explained, put down in the form of clear instructions – whether it is knowledge in mathematics, physics, chemistry, even biology, medical  or technical diagnosis, anything that requires accurate recollection can, has been and is continually being automated. This has happened to the point that, what some people spent years of their life learning can be brought up in a few seconds from anywhere across the world, in seconds and more accurately than humanly possible. Once we paid millions to get this knowledge from a human, now it costs a fraction of a cent to access the same knowledge that is just information. A whole lot of brilliant human work, done systematically once, no longer needs the human to do it again. It can be captured and replicated billions of times. We no longer need the human for that ever again. Mathematicians, engineers, draughts men, librarians, chemists, accountants, bus drivers, even pilots of today – almost all of their work can be automated and replaced really cheaply,” I observed.

“So, why are we learning all this? What can we do so that we will not be out of a job when we grow up?” asked an ambitious teenager, who I knew had a dream of owning a Bugatti Veyron car that costs about a million dollars to buy and more to make. He was worried.

“Good question. What do you think we can do that machines cannot yet do as well and that we will likely be doing better for a long time?”

They all thought for a while and then came one good answer –“Think.”

“Of course, I would add ‘Sing, dance, compose music, cook, tell a joke, write a poem and be kind’. We will always need humans for that, I think,” I could not resist the pun.

     As the bell went off, we all walked out and the bunch of nerdy kids were  hopefully motivated to sing, dance, laugh and joke and be nice to each other. It is most important they do that and they will all hopefully have cool jobs in the future.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report voice_cd 2013-7-24 09:51
This has been recommended to the front page. Thanks for writing.

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