Beat The Computers: Be Human

This post is part of a new series “If I Ran The People Zoo”, looking at the impact Artificial Intelligence will have on our spawnlings and their future.


So the last post in this series was a bit of doom and gloom. I pretty much said your spawnlings are going to be in the People Zoo for the Masters of the Robots: Either as exhibits, or serving coffee, or managing the elderly, or if they are really lucky – nail technicians.

I’m just a positive ray of Unicorn faeces.

Look, I’m not trying to be the naysayer of the future. Remember: I live here too! I love technology and opportunity and all the other sweet treats that feed my burning desire to take over the world and re-model it in a GREATER geeky fashion.

But I am thinking long and hard about the education of our spawnlings, and their entire generation. Because that’s what we should be thinking about if we truly want to prepare them for an ever-changing future.

Australia recently had its Federal Election, and this whole topic wasn’t mentioned. The United Kingdom had their own Brexit issues recently (still ongoing, I think) and again – no discussion about visions for the future employment and education. Well, at least not beyond “Don’t let the foreigners take your job”… I suppose automation and Artificial Intelligence could be considered foreign to most… Nope, still don’t think it registered on the UK political radar.

The United States is amping up to their election in November. No mention of future jobs and skill preparation. Has anyone heard anything from the Japanese elections?

The only people talking about it appear to be scientists (like Prof. Brian Cox) and a bunch of coding clubs like Code Rangers and Code Club Australia.

Don’t get me wrong. Coding clubs are pretty awesome. Teaching our kids how to code and program is becoming more and more like an essential life-skill. With technology stepping into every element of our lives, even our own generation should know the basics of computers. But let’s be honest – not every kid is going to be a programmer. And the competition in this particular field is becoming tighter every year.
It is, however, a Band-Aid solution. A quick-fix. It is catering to a small number of kids who might perform well in this small area, without addressing the majority of kids who will not be working directly in IT.

So what skills can we teach the spawnlings so they can beat the computers?

We’re talking creativity. We’re talking emotional intelligence. We’re talking the ability to correlate two distinctly different disciplines who can both contribute to a solution. None of these are directly addressed within the usual set curriculum at your standard school. You are at the mercy of the teacher.

At least one school has the right idea: Check out the Australian Science & Mathematics School in South Australia. It is a school aimed at senior students (years 10 – 12), with a really strong STEM focus. However, the subjects are allowed to mix together, reflecting real-world problem solving by working across multiple disciplines.

This is a school which recognises the need for enterprising skills; basic knowledge that will transfer directly to the real world. They even have the equivalent of a Science Fair: group assessment to come up with a product, develop it as a complete design, and then market it at the fair. The school brings in genuine business mentors to review the products, and possibly even offer some business advice to make it happen. Last year, two projects were considered totally marketable as billion dollar businesses. From a Science Fair. At a High School.

The thing is, it’s not just the STEM aspect that is being pushed here. There are a whole heap of ‘human skills’ being nurtured. Our education system cannot continue pushing “English and Maths” as the only subjects of importance, with a little computer stuff on the side to show how futuristic we are. It needs to encourage our humanity!

You want to beat the computers? Be everything that is GREAT about being a human.

For example: Improv. I cannot rave about Improv enough. I’m telling you, improvisation skills are the first key step in our spawnlings future. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again – Improv builds resilience and creative thinking. It encourages spawnlings to not be afraid of the unknown. Instead, improv encourages them to embrace it. To say YES and see where it takes them.When I wrote about Improv previously, I introduced you to the awesome Stony Brook University (US). They have the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and offer a grad course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a text book.

Now, imagine a school that combines both ASMS and the Alan Alda Centre…

THAT’S the school I would send our spawnlings too! The kind of school that blends disciplines within a STEM focused environment. The kind of school which encourages thinking across multiple fields to find the solution.

When I think of THAT kind of school, I remember a study years back—tracking the migration of whale sharks. Seems like fairly standard marine biology research. And yet, when they hit a snag with how to track whales through markings on the skin, the researchers turned to … Astronomers? You bet! They used the same algorithms from the Hubble telescope for starscape surveys to track individually marked whales. Creative alternative human thinking.

That’s the advantage our spawnlings will have over computers.

Next post in this series, I’ll look at the impact of future AI on the humanities. Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that combination either, but cross-discipline development is the way of the future!!

And if you know of schools like ASMS, share them in the comments. 


What Jobs Can Minions Do Better Than Machines and Computers?


This post is part of a new series “If I Ran The People Zoo“, looking at the impact Artificial Intelligence will have on directly on our spawnlings and their future. 

We are in the midst of the next big sociological change: automation, and more specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Better Than Computers

You could be forgiven for not knowing this. It wasn’t considered an issue in the recent Australian Federal Election, nor have we had a breeze of it in the US Election discussion. Nevermind a little thing like the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) 2016 report released recently. It only predicted 40% of Australia’s workforce would be replaced by automation within the next 10 to 20 years.

Let that sink in, because it is a key feature of this post – and in fact, this series.

40% of current jobs will probably not exist by the time our spawnlings are finishing school and looking for a job to provide a SALARY. To pay for their LIVING.

In regional areas, that number could be as high as 60%.

It’s important to note, we’re not talking loss of industry here. The work will still be there; it is just done by a robot rather than a human. You can’t jump in and say “We still need that group of workers!” because we will still have the work, just with fewer coffee breaks and toilet stops.

Makes you wonder what will be left for our spawnlings.

So let’s start with a process of elimination. The easy target is the manufacturing industry. Factory work. Dock workers. Any routine repetitive task that can be easily programmed.

Next obvious target is the mining industry: Already done. There are mines in the Pilbara region in Western Australia, entirely automated; from the hard labour roles through to ‘driverless trucks’. Ironically, for every time you hear a regional politician propose faster trains across Australia, another driverless battery-powered truck is being tested on the long haul routes.


Photo from Public Domain


Think it is just the manual/physical jobs at risk? Think again. Remember – we are initially looking at any role that is routine. Repetitive. Easily programmed.

Start thinking about the ‘safe’ jobs those Tiger Mums are pushing for their precious miracles: Accountants. Real Estate Agents. Lawyers. And yes, teachers.  The ‘area of risk’ has now expanded from the lower and base level to middle level of employment.

From personal experience, I completely believe the risk to lawyers. The paper pushing in most litigation is very ‘routine’. There are already programs out there, able to do the data collating role of a paralegal across multiple documents – at more than thrice the speed, and half the cost. Again, the legal profession will always be here; just less emotional.

It is no longer simply a question of what jobs will be left for our spawnlings. It is more a question of which jobs can our spawnlings do better than machines and computers?

But hark! What do I hear from the Conservatives, unwilling (or unable) to see the path of the future? It is the chant of ignorance, a chant brought forth from the Industrial Revolution: ‘loss of traditional role = creation of new job’.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. There are not enough new jobs being created to equal the same amount of roles being replaced by robots. We’re not talking a simple equation like one machine equals one person. We’re talking one machine equals hundreds.

Of course, the easy Band-Aid solution is to just teach the next generation how to be the programmers. But be honest – How many colleagues do you know have the natural ability to excel in tech-based work, at the level needed to gain these jobs in the future?

Remember: your spawnlings’ competition is no longer the kid sitting next to them at school; it is the other 750 million kids in the region – all learning coding at the same time, and all brought together in a global market across the interwebs. Technology is overcoming geography in so many ways. For example, EG Dad leads a team of people across Australia, UK, and the US, because those are the locations of the people with the best skills. I contribute to an international news service (GeekDad/GeekMom) along with other writers from the UK, NZ, UAE, UK, and so many others I lose track of them in the social chat!

Robot-BarristaRight now, right this minute, the best employment options are in the service industry. We’re talking about the high demand for our basic needs. Aged care providers for our ageing population; baristas for our morning motivation; nail technicians for the beauty pick-me-up before the rise of the robots… Oh wait, we already have robots in McDonald’s in the US, as well as other food outlets around the world. Scratch another off your future jobs list.

The common theme across these examples: an increase in casual, part-time, and fragile jobs. And this is already happening right now.

Sure, this isn’t always a bad thing. Some people are genuinely looking for part-time work; be it work/life balance or personal interests, or whatnot. But not everyone is. And with 2/3 of all new jobs advertised in Australia being part-time, fewer people are having a say in this.

On top of that, our spawnlings will also be competing with the robots for the jobs. The cost of technology is far easier to justify than the cost of human resources. Every company is trying to ensure they maintain their bottom line, so why not take the cheaper option?

Did you hear about the AI robot and his plans to keep his human creators in a People Zoo? That people zoo doesn’t seem so fantastical now, does it?

Where do we need the jobs in the future? Health care, science, innovation, entertainment. And yeah, I still reckon we need some human interaction in our education system. These are the jobs I see as needing a human element involved. The jobs where there just might be a competitive edge in favour of the spawnlings.

My next post in this series looks at the skills our spawnlings will need to compete with technology in the future. Are the schools of today really prepared for the skills they need tomorrow? Do all schools have the resources to teach the next generation, or will we end up with an even greater class/education divide? And if there are fewer jobs generally (and more competition), who will do it cheapest?

And don’t think you’re off the hook – we’re going to look at what EG Parents are doing to give their spawnlings the competitive edge. All bragging is encouraged in the comments below, or in our Facebook discussion.