By Kimberly Blaker
Many parents today never experienced a world where computers weren’t a standard household fixture, let alone a world without the internet. When the World Wide Web first became available to the public in 1991, it was archaic compared to today. Yet at the time, it was quite the phenomenon. But the rapid speed of technological progress over the past couple of decades will resemble the crawl of a tortoise in another decade or two, as technology continues to advance at an exponential rate.
In fact, according to Ray Kurzweil, a world-renowned inventor, thinker, and futurist, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” If you have any doubt, Kurzweil has a remarkable 30-year track record of making accurate predictions.
This means the rapid change in recent years is nothing compared to what’s to come. The world which tomorrow’s young adults will enter will be startlingly different from the one in which we live today. That’s because our world is increasingly dependent on robotics, technology, and now artificial intelligence (AI).
But what is AI? It’s machines or programs with the capabilities of human intelligence. AI capabilities include learning, presenting knowledge, reasoning, problem-solving, planning, perception, manipulation, and motion. Right now, AI is in its infancy, and much of what’s purported to be AI is actually pseudo-AI. Whether imitation or the real thing, there are several current AI technologies: chatbots, Tesla, Siri and Alexa, Facebook feed, and Pandora, to name a few – and AI is on the brink of changing the world as we know it.
But with all good things come drawbacks. Within the next 20 years, AI will result in a loss of anywhere between 9 and 47 percent of jobs, according to various studies by Oxford University and other institutions. So kids must be fully prepared for our vastly changing world and the careers of the future.
How to prepare kids for the future job market: Bolster interest and enthusiasm in STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills are one of the gateways to job opportunities in a world dependent on AI. But to many kids, ‘science’ and ‘math’ spell boring with a capital “B.” This is in large part because kids can’t always see how these disciplines apply to life. So unless your child already expresses genuine interest in one or more of these disciplines, discussing STEM may be met with resistance.
The trick is to provide kids with everyday experiences that put the fun in learning, or provide kids with experiences that are a natural part of life. Once you’ve gained their interest, then explain its relationship to STEM. That way, your child has a positive perspective on the discipline and recognizes its purpose and value.
Stimulate spatial awareness. This is an integral part of STEM learning and provides kids the ability to visualize their end product, says David Lubinski, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University. He is the lead author of a study published in Psychological Science journal, July 15, 2013. Researchers found spatial ability is a predictor of the development of knowledge and innovation in STEM fields.
Encourage free play and out-of-the-box thinking. Play fosters imagination, creativity, and resilience to deal with challenges. These traits will be necessary to succeed in an ever-advancing world of AI. When kids play freely, they experiment, explore, and dismantle (things, scenarios, and concepts) to understand how the world works. So play is one of the best ways for kids to learn and develop skills.
Develop kids’ ability to deal with the real world. Dave and Helen Edwards, co-founders of Intelligenstia.ai, an AI research firm, point out there will still be careers in the future that are dependent on human capabilities. In “The skills your kids should cultivate to be competitive in the age of automation,” the Edwards explain humans will still be needed for jobs that require: interpersonal skills, applying math to business problems, management of our physical world (environmental science and engineering), as well as health care jobs. People will remain ahead of robots in these areas for some time.
Foster social skills and teamwork. These will be valuable assets in the future workforce. Collaboration requires a combination of skills and traits: emotional intelligence, humility, communication, listening, conflict resolution, goal setting, prioritizing, decision making, and framing problems.
Emotional intelligence is particularly crucial to the development of excellent social skills and teamwork. Both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are the framework for emotional intelligence. Interpersonal skills include social awareness and relationship management, while intrapersonal skills include self-awareness and self-regulation.
Cultivate entrepreneurial characteristics and skills. Even though automation and technology will reduce the need for laborers, people will always be needed to develop and manage companies. Add to this, the growing trend toward companies outsourcing and hiring independent professionals for a broad range of needs is likely to continue and become more common. Some essential entrepreneurial skills kids should develop are financial literacy, goal setting, problem-solving, creativity, and good work habits.
Promote tech skills. Greg Satell says the tech skills of tomorrow will be vastly different from today, in his article, “These Are the Skills That Your Kids Will Need for the Future (Hint: It’s Not Coding).” By the time kids grow up, computer programming will no longer be based on current coding languages. It’ll be based “more on quantum laws and the human brain,” he explains. But because the future of computer programming is unknown, there’s no way to teach it to kids. So Satell recommends kids learn more about quantum dynamics, the logic of code, and genetics, on which future systems will be based.
Still, learning to code has its benefits. It’s true learning a coding language of today will unlikely be of any use in the future. But learning how to learn a code can make learning future codes easier. Coding also helps kids develop problem-solving skills. Finally, it’s an excellent way for kids to discover a career path and boost their self-confidence in a STEM discipline.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online store, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at sagerarebooks.com.