Intelligent Future Consulting / Intelligent Future Research
BOOK RICHARD    

Posts Tagged Education

The Intelligence Revolution (Part 2)

The Four Rs: Changing Jobs in a Changing World


The Intelligence Revolution will transform many aspects of our lives, but few as radically as work and employment.

By its very nature, progress is disruptive. Technological advances lead to the development of new markets and the withering away of old ones. They generate new laws and regulations. In the most extreme cases, they can even threaten our existence as a species. But of all of these changes, none touches us more personally and immediately than the those that affect our jobs.

Work puts a roof over our heads and food on our table. It makes it possible to provide for our family. If we’re fortunate, it contributes to our sense of purpose and identity.

But if change is disruptive, how much more upheaval will we see in coming years as the world undergoes accelerating change? The rate of technological advancement has been slowly increasing for many centuries, but only recently has it reached a point where we’re aware of it on practically a day-to-day basis. Every week, there are new breakthroughs and devices that will alter some aspect of our lives. This trend shows few signs of letting up. If anything, the increasing intelligence of our tools is only going to accelerate the rate of change further.

For generations, it was typical to perform the same trade as our parents and their parents before them and so on. In the middle of the 20th Century, many people worked for a single company throughout their entire career. By the end of the century, this had become far less common.

According to a longitudinal survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in 2008, younger baby boomers held an average of 10.8 jobs between the ages of 18 and 42. (The Bureau doesn’t define or track career changes, contrary to a commonly quoted statistic about its frequency. Nevertheless, a general trend can still be extrapolated from the jobs numbers.) If much of this shift in job security is due to technological progress and the rate of that progress continues to accelerate, what will it mean for all workers and the society they support in the years ahead?

In the face of such change, we have little choice but to adapt. Attempting to hold on to older, less efficient work methods has failed since before the Luddites tried to sabotage mechanized looms in the early 1800s. The ability to produce more efficiently almost always results in increased productivity which lowers real prices. This is a difficult incentive to fight despite the upheaval it often brings.

Adapting to a rapidly changing world means shifting how we look at careers, identity and education. More and more, it’s going to become necessary to re-invent ourselves, matching our strengths and skill sets to the changing marketplace. With this new path identified, we’ll need to re-educate ourselves to prepare for work in new and changing fields. Over time, we’ll rebuild our careers, combining prior experience with our more recently acquired skills. Then, as technology and the fields it creates and supports continue to advance, the cycle will repeat and it will be necessary to do it all over again.

For many of us, adopting these Four Rs will feel very foreign, even threatening. Embracing change is not typically in our nature. But adapting to it is. The world we live and work in is being transformed whether we want it or not. As with all sea changes, we have a choice. We can swim with the tide or be overwhelmed by it.

Affordable higher education that continues throughout our lifetimes will be essential to making this possible. Likewise, regular career counseling. These will be necessary if we’re to maintain a work force that can support the many high tech fields that are sure to arise in the coming decades. The health of our entire economy depends on the right approach.

Progress is accelerating, changing the world before our eyes. It will bring many challenges, but with it many opportunities as well. To thrive in this rapidly changing world, we’ll need to recognize that our working lives will be changing as rapidly as everything else. The Four Rs may be one way we can adapt to an accelerating future.

    Re-Invent.
    Re-Educate.
    Re-Build.
    Repeat.

Science literacy

I’m not the first to say it, but we could certainly stand to have a little more science literacy in this country.  In almost all countries, actually.  It’s not that everyone needs to understand thermodynamics or be able to calculate a Fibonacci sequence.  But as our world and our devices grow in complexity, there are certain basic tools we could all use to make our lives better, safer and more financially secure.

Vaccinations save lives
Vaccinations save lives

The recent death of a teenage girl in Coventry, England following her vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV) is an prime example of this.  Immediately following the girl’s death, the media jumped on the story, reporting it in such a way that it created a considerable and unnecessary scare.  Though the cause of death was in fact an unrelated tumor, it was days before this information was available to the public.  While the young girl’s death was tragic, it would be so much more tragic if hundreds of others lost their lives because they didn’t receive this vaccination.  HPV is recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer.  Worldwide, there are over half a million new cases of cervical cancer annually resulting in over a quarter million deaths each year.  Yet it only takes a small number of serious adverse reactions to sway a large portion of the public because they don’t understand the difference between correlation and causation.

In the US, 24 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given in the last four years with a little under a thousand reports of serious adverse reactions.  While some people may see this as a large number of reactions, this amounts to four thousandths of a percent!  Given any sufficiently large group, it’s inevitable that something will occur to a small subset – they’ll get a cold or be in an auto accident or win the lottery that day.  It’s only correlation.  The two events are not linked.

Our minds are structured to want to spot patterns in the world around us.  But as the world grows more complex, it’s getting harder to simply intuit those patterns correctly.  That’s one reason why people believe in wild conspiracies or that a particular number or color or talisman is lucky for them.  But with a little better grounding in science, people could make much better decisions.  A little introductory physics will convince you that tailgating is a really bad idea, no matter how advanced your braking system.  A quick cost-benefit analysis will show that three seconds of seatbelt-fastening every single car trip beats taking the chance of being one of the twenty thousand that die each year because they didn’t.  Exposure to basic probability will show why those trips to the casino are a lousy investment.  Knowing something about how polls, surveys and studies are performed will show that the methodology used greatly affects their accuracy and usefulness.  (Unless your idea of usefulness is misinformation.)

As technological progress accelerates, it’s only going to become increasingly difficult to navigate through life successfully without these basic tools of science.  Without them, many of us will increase our chances of being exposed to preventable health risks, of being needlessly scammed and taken advantage of, and even of dying an unnecessary death.  And that’s a tragedy.

Like us on Facebook