Let us envisage an automated world and prepare our students for it
BY EDWIN MOINDI
Mary is sitting in class staring out into the setting sun, she is contemplating her future. Her KCPE exams are coming up in a month’s time. Her Math’s teacher Wateke is convinced that the students need to study hard, gain a good grade, get to a good high school, then proceed to a good university. Mary is very sceptical of this logic; Wateke is convinced becoming a lawyer, or a doctor will ensure his students’ success.
Wateke is a gait figure, he wears two suits throughout the week. He lives in a run-down house bordering the school fence. His colleagues live in adjacent slums, he was lucky. Wateke is depressed by his pay, it can barely sustain his family living in a rural village. His only source of new information is yesterday’s newspaper which he collects from the roadside eatery he takes his dinner from.
Mary’s family is progressive, her father is a banker, her elder brother Reuben, a successful digital marketer. Whenever Reuben speaks, her interest peeks. She sees hope, unlike when Wateke speaks. She is a smart student and thinks about her future. She worries about the state of unemployment in the country. Her cousin Natasha, a doctor, speaks of the terrible state of hospitals, and the lack of proper salaries.
Reuben believes that there is a flawed perception that Africa with the fastest growing population in the world will provide youthful labour to the world. If we care to investigate we may find that beginning with Japan, labour in the developed world will increasingly be handed to robots and artificial intelligence.
Reuben goes ahead and shows his sister a YouTube clip of Foxconn Technologies Group; one of the largest manufacturers of electronics in the world, replacing a portion of their workers with robots. Its plan is to replace 80 per cent of its workforce with robots in 5 -10 years. This is an audacious goal given at one point the company had 1 million workers in China. This trend would be forgotten if it doesn’t point to a growing desire by global manufacturers to further automate and use fewer human workers.
Reuben also talks of another trend in genomics, a branch of microbiology that deals with genomes; the genetic material of an organism. Every human being is made up of 3 billion DNA pairs. It took 13 years, and more than USD2 billion to document (sequence) this information for the first time, for a single human being. This was achieved in 2003. Since then the cost has dropped exponentially, due to advances in technology. Today it costs USD1000 and takes a few hours to file a person’s genome.
Why is this relevant?
Today we are ravaged by cancer, and other diseases that are expensive to treat mainly because we discover them too late. By looking at your genome sequence, a trained health professional can tell you whether you are likely to suffer a specific disease, in the years to come and offer individualised medicine. It means the right combination of medicine can be positioned to bring about healing, and in certain instances destroy cancerous cells with higher success.
Today the genomic approach is reserved for specialist hospitals, that have found ways of bringing together high technology and cutting-edge medical study. The future is different given the rapid evolution of technology, and the exponential increase in the speed of the internet. Does this then imply that the doctors of the future will have to be technology savvy? Are pharmaceutical companies going to be ‘technology’ companies handling our medical information and prescribing our personalised medication? Will information be kept in distant servers, where another ‘piece’ of you can be recreated? All these are privacy questions being raised.
Every professional sphere is being disrupted and traditional borders taken down. Artificial Intelligence (A.I) the bane of many professionals, is growing astute at undertaking certain mundane tasks. What will survive will be tasks that require judgement, social skills and other hard to automate capabilities. A.I will likely replace receptionists, bookkeeping clerks, proof readers among others. If we continue to produce people who are going to occupy these positions, we are failing.
What we need to start doing is moulding a generation excellent in problem solving, spatial and hand-eye coordination skills. Gaming is good training ground for these skills. Future career takers will need to speak another language, coding. Because no matter which career you take, you will have to interact with automated systems, both to guide them to achieve a goal, or to understand how to improve them.
We will need to start looking at the internet as a piece of real estate that we need to occupy and develop. Being able to communicate with written word, video or pictures will differentiate you. The more unique and authentic the better. Another critical tool will be the ability to collaborate and support others as you build your own.
When you perceive all these changes, then it is not a loss of the traditional career path of being a doctor, lawyer, chemist etc. Rather an evolution is breaking boundaries and forcing professions to communicate and collaborate for the betterment of humanity.
Edwin Moindi is the author of Self & Identity: The Nine Conversation that Question, Empower and Transform for the 21st Century. Email: Edwin.firstname.lastname@example.org