Will Education Be Pointless 30 Years from Now? — Part One

It’s too late for evolution. It’s time for disruption!

So you think the education system is broken?

Well, you’re certainly not the only one.

It’s no surprise we think that because after all, the education system we know today is largely unchanged from what it was during the industrial revolution and the world has changed immensely since then.

Even Napoleon Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich, which was originally published 82 years ago now, mentions things that were broken then, yet still not much was done to fix it. People far smarter than you and I have tried and failed.

And now with the advent of smarter Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Brain-Machine Interfaces, this has become a more trendy topic, ripe for an evolutionary step forward.

Everyone and their dog jumps on the occasion to “fix” the education problem.

There’s a new Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) platform coming out every week. We have Udemy, Coursera, Lynda (LinkedIn Learning), Masterclass, Mentorbox, SkillShare, Udacity, Teachable, edX, and many many more.

Pardon the word, but it’s a shit show out there.

Why the heck do we need 12 of those?

A few months ago, I was reading Leveraged Learning by Danny Iny. While there were some interesting ideas in there, I couldn’t help but think that everyone is just not seeing the big picture here.

“We need to train better teachers!”

“We need to improve our platforms!”

“We need all that we have, just better!”

Anyone screaming déjà vu yet?

By far, my favourite part of Iny’s book is when he compares the current education system situation with the automobile revolution, during Henry Ford’s time.

Think about it for a second:

“We need to train faster horses!”

“We need to improve our carriages!”

“We need all that we have, just better!”

It really isn’t that different now, is it?

Remember above when I said that the education system was ripe for an evolutionary step forward? Well, that’s actually a pile of crap.

We are already living science fiction

Truth is, we don’t have time for evolution because evolution is beating everyone and everything to its race as we speak. We live in a period of utmost uncertainty. One that history has yet to comprehend.

“If somebody describes the world of the mid-21st century to you and it doesn’t sound like science fiction, it is certainly false.” — Yuval Noah Harari

It’s no wonder that people like Elon Musk were so vocal about the threat of AI toward humanity.

AI is evolving at a much more rapid pace than we, as humans, ever have throughout history. And we’ll never catch up. At the current pace, we are ultimately creating our own demise.

My point is, we don’t have time for evolution. It’s time for disruption.

In this piece, my goal is to make you reflect on the problem and incentivize you to think differently. To think “outside the box”. I’m not going to tackle solutions here, because that’s exactly what’s causing everyone to jump on the same boat and create micro-evolutions.

In this Part One of a series of articles on the topic, we’ll address the reasoning behind the need for disruption.

No one fully grasps the problem. Through my months of research on the topic, it became clear to me that no one company or government will ever come up with the ultimate solution for this most important problem.

This needs to be a collective effort.

We need different perspectives, both from sources close to the matter, and those considered outsiders. The education system is roughly the same all around the world, there’s no point solving that separately. Everyone benefits from a collective intelligence on this.

In a way, this could be our most powerful union towards a common goal. It’s likely just a utopia in my mind, but one can only dream!

However utopian our dreams for a better education start off, we must remember that the surest way to hit a target is to aim PAST it. We may never realize the idealistic, fantastical goals, but in pursuing them — together — we just might build a better system.


What is Education, and what is it not?

Painting of the  School of Athens  by  Raphael

Painting of the School of Athens by Raphael

When you think about education, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Probably schools, right?

The fact is, in the grand scheme of things, schools are a pretty recent aspect of history. In fact, they are less than 3,500 years old. While some of you may think that it sounds like a lot, imagine that we have been learning as far back as 350,000 years ago, so for about only 1% of our species’ history.

A small percentage of the American population, 3.4 percent, don’t go to school. We call these people homeschooled. 74 percent of parents said they homeschool because of their dissatisfaction with academic instruction in other schools. You may know some of them. You may be one of them.

Take Leonardo Da Vinci for example.

He never went to school. By not being fed with popular information at the time, he wasn’t held back on his curiosity and creativity. This partly led him to be the most well-known polymath there ever was. Yet he was far from being the only one, it was the norm back then.

Remember, schools are just ONE part of education.

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits.

You may think that Da Vinci is an exception but the reality is that the Renaissance period had a lot of people like him. Polymathy was one of most sought after “skill”. Today, there are plenty of polymaths that do really well in today’s knowledge economy.

While some see them as dabblers with limited ambitions, the recent years have shown that they may actually be the most prepared for the wave of changes that are coming. They are, in essence, the epitome of continuous education.

For them, it’s not about the method they learn, it’s about finding the best resources to learn and practicing in smart ways. And that fits perfectly well with the definition above.

The current education system does not encourage learning of the valuable skills of learning to learn, combining skills creatively and adapting to change. Yet these are a polymath’s greatest assets. Every evolution of the system has always neglected that, and truthfully, it’s a hard thing to do through evolution.

Evolution of Education is not enough

If we trace back human evolution, there are patterns that made it so we thrived as a species when compared to others. One particular change in our history rapidly accelerated our “growth”: schools.

Given that sharing of knowledge we received through schools, we’ve outpaced any previous generations on evolution. Schools, at the time, were a needed disruption to move our species forward and further solidify our role on this planet.

The above-mentioned threat of technological advances is showing a much faster evolution than we humans are. And if we analyze the following important aspects, I’m hoping we can all realize that something needs to be done with education, and fast.

From homo sapiens to modern-day human

Photo Source:  DepositPhotos.com

Photo Source: DepositPhotos.com

How did homo sapiens (our current human species) beat out all the other species of humans that existed at the same time?

According to historians, our imagination was the reason.

Imagination: the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.

Homo sapiens rule the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.” — Sapiens

No other “natural” species on earth can do that. And this has been true for 350,000 years. For the first time in the history of mankind, we’ve created something that can arguably be more imaginative than we are. More on this below.

This, combined with the following fact, is cause for alarm:

Adaptability

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

If you look at other species, we’re definitely not the strongest. Tigers, Gorilla, Elephants, and many more animals totally crush us in terms of brute strength.

We’re also not the most intelligent either. Dolphins and Whales, for example, are both considered more intelligent than humans.

Of all the remaining species in this world, only those that managed to adapt have survived.

That brings us to an important question:

Can machines beat us at what made us thrive all these years?

Photo from the movie:  Ex Machina

Photo from the movie: Ex Machina

In this context, we’ll define “machine” as hardware — of any form — with artificial intelligence.

Are machines creative?

Creativity: The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.

We’ve established earlier that imagination, according to historians, was the reason why homo sapiens thrived as the ultimate species of humans. So on the question of whether or not machines are creative, we can try to solve this like that:

If creativity is directly related to usage of imagination and “imagination” is the faculty of forming new concepts not present to the senses, can we then assume that machines are indeed creative? And arguably more so than humans?

As an example, in today’s world of Chess, judges are suspicious of players who come up with creative solutions to problems because AI is already viewed as more creative in Chess.

A counter-argument to that is that for AI to work, it needs data, and tons of it. So if creativity is inventing new ideas, AI isn’t it. It can only rely on past knowledge to bring forth ideas that are not yet discovered.

But isn’t it the same for humans?

Does creativity even exist?


Are machines adaptable?

It’s hard to argue against the adaptability of machines. There’s a whole field of studies on the subject called Machine Learning (ML).

Machine Learning is an application of AI that provides systems with the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine Learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it to learn for themselves.

Isn’t that scary?

How fast can you solve this random equation: 678 x 91273 / 45?

A machine does that in fractions of a second. The point here is that if it can do that millions of times faster than humans, imagine how fast it can learn “anything”. We’ll define later what machines are better than humans at.

While we may not see it fully yet, many things can be translated into data and numbers. We’re seeing it with self-driving cars. A few years back, we thought of driving as usage of a combination of senses: vision, hearing, touching.

We only have limited “sensors” for those, machines don’t. Vision can be represented as a grid of pixels, or image if you will, Hearing is audio waves, and touching is completely irrelevant here.

When we see it that way, isn’t it clear that machines can analyze images faster than we can? If the machine makes a mistake, it knows exactly the data point that’s wrong and can correct that on its own, in a matter of microseconds.

When we fail at something, it can sometimes take years of reflection before we truly figure out the root cause. Most of the times we don’t even know we’ve failed and keep repeating sub-optimal patterns.


Can machines beat us at what made us thrive all these years?

It is very likely. They don’t have a limited number of senses for creativity and adapt much faster than humans do.

To stay “relevant” we a need a new system in place. No amount of evolution in the education system can prepare us for what’s to come shortly.

What is the role of humans 30 years from now on then?

Photo Source:  Shutterstock.com

Photo Source: Shutterstock.com

If we are to believe machines are better than humans at key elements that made us thrive all these years, what then are humans “good for” going forward? Are we still going to be relevant? Are we doomed like other species before us?

What are humans better at than machines?

Let’s start with a pretty obvious one:

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Emotion: a feeling such as happiness, love, fear, anger, or hatred, which can be caused by the situation that you are in or the people you are with.

Unless I’m mistaken, machines don’t have emotions and likely have no need for them. While emotions are not something historians say we thrived on, it’s a nonetheless strong trait we humans have. Emotions are arguably what keeps us going in life. More on that later.

2. Independence

As far as I’m aware, we have yet to create machines that can create machines on their own, at least on the hardware side. Physical servers still need to exist. We like to think that the “cloud” is limitless but the truth is that cloud really is just interconnected physical servers.

No servers, no AI.

Machines still run on power “harvested” by humans.

No electricity, no machines.

As well, machines don’t create and launch satellites on their own.

I’m not saying the above will never happen, but likely not within the next 30 years.

3. A sense of purpose in life

Machines don’t care for living and for longevity. These are pretty much based on emotion. Given that, the theory of machines taking over the world is a little far-fetched. While machines may become the most “powerful species”, it is unlikely that they will ever find a purpose on their own.

Purpose: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists

This is a slightly lesser argument, however, as we have yet to agree on what is our purpose in life and it is likely irrelevant as there might be none.

Yet, the search for the meaning of life could very well be the one thing that keeps us going and makes us fear our own mortality.

What are machines better at than humans?

1. Computation of data

We’ve already established that machines are millions of times better than we are at computing any mathematical operations. They can even combine their “intelligence” to solve harder problems faster and better.

Put two humans together and they don’t necessarily solve a problem twice as fast. Chances are they will solve it slower but better.

With the self-driving car example from above, we noted that many of today’s problems we solve with our senses can actually be data problems. With current visual, audio, and haptic technology, machines have already surpassed the power of our senses.

Anything we do that has to do with images, sounds, and touch can be better done by a machine. That’s a lot of things!

Imagine for a moment that you are blind, deaf, mute, and anaphic.

What’s left of you? Can you thrive?

What’s the point of relying on our senses if we can rely on a machine to do it better than us?

30 years from now, but likely later in the 21st century, jobs relying on those senses will probably be gone. That’s a lot of jobs, my friends! Think about that.

2. Sheer strength

We already rely on machines all the time to do hard physical labour for us. Our biology is restricting us greatly when it comes to physical strength. However we evolve going forward, we’ll never be stronger than elephants.

Can machines be stronger than elephants?

Of course! They can be infinitely stronger. Picture this:

The BelAZ 75710 vs an elephant. Which one do you think is stronger?

The BelAZ 75710 vs an elephant. Which one do you think is stronger?

Convinced?

What is the role of humans?

There are many different theories on that.

If previously we’ve been searching for the meaning of life, that search will be more and more relevant as we may have a “lesser” role in evolution. We have thrived as the “ultimate” species for years but for the first time in history, we may not retain this “title”. If our reason to live was to maintain that status, then that reason may need adaptation.

But the question arises:

How “useful” are machines without their respective owners or creators?

It is plausible that 30 years from now, our role, whatever it already is, will remain the same. If machines are tools for humans to use, it is possible it will remain so.

Yet, given the possibility that machines might be more imaginative than humans, it’s possible they’ll find their own purpose for existing, which may or may not conflict with our own interests.

So what’s the role of humans going forward?

Let us collectively reflect on that as that is partly how we’ll find a true solution to our education problem.

What is the role of machines?

Again, there are many different theories on that.

The best hope for humanity is that machines will remain tools to facilitate human lives. Some may argue that this is still possible. Unfortunately, this is very unlikely.

Even if it remains a tool for humans, is there a limit to how much we can/should facilitate our lives?

Isn’t it true that we grow and find happiness in hardship?

If everything is entertainment, nothing is entertainment. If everything is good, nothing is good.

Machines are slowly replacing our active role in this world. Slowly but surely, they are turning us into what people used to call “mindless robots”.

Isn’t it mind-boggling?

In SapiensYuval Noah Harari reflects on the implications of wheat on humanity and history. He stipulates that wheat, in fact, controlled us, as opposed to as controlling it. For better or worse, it changed us in ways history could not have “anticipated”.

You think you’re in control of your computer or phone in front of you right now?

Think again.

How much of your time is spent in front of a “machine”?

If you’re old enough for that, compare what your schedule was like 15 years ago as opposed to now. If you look at your grandparents, whatever your age, I’m sure you can see they lived a completely different lifestyle.

That’s in the short span of about half a century only!

So what is the role of machines going forward?

Again, let us collectively reflect on that while we still can. One thing is for sure, machines will continue to disrupt humanity, for better or worse.

How can Education prepare us for what’s to come?

When we dig deeper, we can see that Education is interconnected to many underlying systems integral to our lives. The way we are educated dictates future outcomes, whether positively or negatively.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll dig deeper into how Education is affecting many aspects of our lives, what its current pains points are, and how to collectively start thinking about it from there.

We are lagging behind evolution for the first time since 350,000 years, and it’s time to do something about it. Let’s build a collective intelligence and solve this before it’s too late!