What Will We Do After AI Takes Our Jobs?

Christopher Mims predicts that artificial intelligence will increasingly put white collar, professional workers out of work. That means people who blog. 🙂 Muriel Clauson, of Singularity University, says “Education is often touted as the answer to the skills gap, but it is generally a blunt instrument.” She recommends this system:

First, break down every job into the smallest tasks. Then, figure out which of those tasks can be automated. The jobs that include those tasks are the ones at risk.

Second, assess what skills each person has, and compare those skills with the tasks, across all of the jobs, that can’t be automated. That would give you a pretty good idea of how to match up people with the remaining jobs. Each person would probably be missing a few of the tasks for any given job, so this “task mapping” assessment system would tell you how to design universities and other educational organizations.

I’ve always been nervous about designing education based on what jobs currently exist. It’s because today’s jobs are always going away, or transforming, and new jobs are emerging all the time. Those new jobs often involve new “tasks” that wouldn’t show up using any system based on today’s jobs. So the real challenge faced by education reformers, and education researchers like myself, is: What are the deeper, higher level skills that apply broadly across a wide range of tasks? Those are the skills that make you adaptable, ready to grow and change with the economy.

Desperately Needed: Entrepreneurs Under 30

The percentage of people under age 30 who own their own private business has reached a 24-year low: About 3.6% of households headed by adults younger than 30 owned stakes in private companies (Wall Street Journal, January 3-4, 2015). That is WAY down from 10.6% in 1989, and 6.1% in 2010. In 2013, the proportion of young adults who start a business each month dropped to its lowest level in at least 17 years (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation). The U.S. “startup rate”–new firms as a percentage of all firms–fell by almost half between 1978 and 2011 (Brookings Institution).

What about all those news stories about young 20-somethings who just became multi-millionaires in the latest IPO? It turns out they are pretty rare exceptions. For a country to have a vibrant, innovative economy, you need lots more innovation, not just of the famous tech millionaire variety.

No one’s really sure why. It’s some combination of:

  • Difficulty raising money (no access to capital or credit)
  • Fear of failing leading young adults to be risk-averse
  • They haven’t acquired the skills and experience needed to start a successful business
  • In the U.S., we’re seeing an unusually strong job market, and high salaries, in established technology companies. So why take the risk, when you’ve got several strong job offers at successful companies, with good pay and benefits?

This is a big problem for the U.S., because as Harvard’s John Davis says,

We need startups not only for employment, but also for ideas. It’s part of the vitality of this country to have people starting new businesses and trying new things.

Amen! The Wall Street Journal article doesn’t suggest solutions. I have a few:

  • Increase entrepreneurship education in high school and in college
  • Reduce the costs of failure (free health care for everyone is a good start, something conservatives should support to foster new venture creation; also various forms of tax breaks and credits)
  • Increase availability of capital (perhaps with VC and accelerator funds)
  • Provide more opportunities for mentoring and entrepreneurship education, in accelerator and incubator spaces

What do you think we should do to foster more entrepreneurship in our young adults?

The Common Core Curriculum

In my Spring 2011 course at Washington University titled “The Future of Schools,” we’ve been reading a wide range of studies about the broad shift in the world’s economies to more creative, knowledge based activities. We’ve been reading about the potential impact of technology, particularly the Internet, on schools of the future. The mystery facing all research-based attempts to reform schools is: Why do schools stay the same, year after year and decade after decade, even as new research accumulates? The practice of medicine advances every year, when basic research findings are translated into clinical practice. But the same doesn’t seem to happen with education.

I suspect that everything will stay the same, until suddenly, one day, everything will change. I think it’s impossible to predict exactly when the change will occur. Here’s one new development, in the United States. In the U.S., every one of the 50 states has legal responsibility for public schooling; there is no federal government control of public schools, under the U.S. Constitution. So unlike almost every other country, there is no national curriculum, no national test, and it is very difficult to compare students from one state to the next. In recent years, over 40 states have independently agreed to use the same “common core” standards, which are currently under development. At the same time, the consortium of states is developing a new set of standardized tests, with $330 million of funding from the U.S. Department of Education. And in the New York Times of April 28, 2011, I learned that:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy, and the foundation associated with Pearson, the giant textbook and school technology company, announced a partnership on Wednesday to create online reading and math courses aligned with the new academic standards…The 24 new courses will use video, interactive software, games, social media and other digital materials to present math lessons for kindergarten through 10th grade and English lessons for kindergarten through 12th grade.

This is fascinating. If the pieces all fall into place, it’s not hard to envision an increasing number of students choosing to opt out of school altogether, and sign up for these online courses. Pearson is planning to market the new courses directly to schools and districts, as a replacement for the textbooks they are currently buying; but I’m sure some parents will wonder, why can’t I just do this at home?

As Richard Halverson and Allan Collins argue in their recent book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, technological developments like these will continue whether or not schools adapt accordingly. And if they don’t figure out how to respond and adapt to new developments like this, they may become increasingly irrelevant. This would not be good for the future of public schools, and it should concern all of us.

*Sam Dillon, “Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.” New York Times, April 28, 2011, p. A18.

The Innovation Exchange

Today’s conference at Washington University, called the Innovation Exchange, brought together top scholars and business leaders to think collaboratively about fostering innovation.  It was hosted by our new Institute for Innovation and Growth.  Keynote speakers included:

Bill Peck (former Dean of Washington U. Medical School and founder of Innovate St. Louis)

Carliss Baldwin (Professor at Harvard Business School and an expert in the relations between design and the economy)

Christoph Loch (Professor of Corporate Innovation at INSEAD, possibly the best business school in Europe)

Jeff DeGraff (Dean of Innovation at the Competing Values Company and a professor at University of Michigan)

Key insights that emerged included:

* The need to transform business school education to teach for innovation

* The desire for managers and innovation champions to have a forum where they can exchange problems, issues, and solutions

* The need for managers and staff to be educated about how innovative companies work, and how they can make their own organizations more innovative

Watch this blog in the coming year, as this new Institute for Innovation begins to take shape.

The State of Creativity

I spent a few days last week in Oklahoma City, as a keynote speaker for an event sponsored by the Creative Oklahoma initiative. Believe it or not, but Oklahoma is working hard to become known as the “state of creativity” (and they’ve gotten a good start by securing the domain name www.stateofcreativity.com). Like many of my readers, I was at first skeptical; Oklahoma doesn’t typically come to mind in connection with the creative economy. But Oklahoma’s creativity initiative has the backing of top political and business leaders, a rare combination. I met the Governor as well as a substantial number of local business leaders. And both Democrats and Republicans were united behind the initiative.

For about five years now, Oklahoma’s initiative has been guided by Sir Ken Robinson, a leader in the field of creativity and education who has spent most of his life in the U.K. (thus accounting for his knighthood by the Queen) and, seven years ago, attracted to the U.S. by a top position at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles. No doubt as a result of this expert advise, Oklahoma is doing everything right–the campaign is proceeding on multiple fronts, including education, culture, and business.

I was invited to talk about innovation in the schools of the future. Oklahoma schools have adopted the A+ schools model that originated in North Carolina. If we want a creative economy, then we absolutely have to start with our schools, because the creative economy depends on creative workers. I haven’t written much on this blog about my research on schools and creativity, but let me just say that most schools today do a very poor job of fostering creativity in students. When I see Oklahoma investing in its schools in this way, I begin to believe that it truly could become known as the “state of creativity.”

They’ll have to be in it for the long haul; regional transformations like this historically have taken between ten and twenty years. Another invited speaker was Pascal Cools, of the Flanders District of Creativity project. Flanders is the Flemish region of Belgium, and until a few years ago was thought of as an agrarian backwater. Now it’s a center of the global innovation economy. In the small Belgium town of Leuven, Pascal coordinates a global network of “districts of creativity” that include Qindao, China, Karnatka, India, Catalonia (“in” Spain although the Catalonians would deny that), and yes, Oklahoma–the only state in the U.S. to be a member in this international effort.

I wish Oklahoma great success in this transformative effort.