Utopia or Dystopia?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t come across an analysis that either warns of how automation and Artificial Intelligence are going to wreak havoc on humanity or how they will solve all of humanity’s problems. Either way, our children are growing up in a world that will certainly be significantly impacted by automation and AI. Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that 30% of the workforce will be automated by 2030.  While I don’t think AI and automation will bring about a dystopian or utopian society, we cannot ignore their growing impact, and the disruption they will cause to our economy, and to our children’s future. AI and automation are already here, and are eliminating jobs now. As all of this technology exponentially improves, its impact will be felt even more.

For the past few years I have been writing about the skills our children will need and, at Hillel, we have worked to incorporate many of them. As the years go by, the evidence has become more compelling that we are on the right path for our students.  Our children will inherit a world in which their creativity will be a huge advantage, and that’s why the arts are an essential component of our learning experiences. Creativity boosts critical thinking skills, and encourages out-of-the-box thinking – skills that will always remain essential. This is why our Farber Innovation Hub, where students learn from failed and sucessful prototypes, is valuable to our children’s learning.

Students must learn to adapt.  Adaptability will give them an edge. And when students learn how to learn, they become more flexible in their thinking, and they can adapt to changing situations. It is essential that students be given opportunities to learn how to solve problems, master concepts on their own, and develop the perseverance to do so. As part of this skill development, students must become independent thinkers; they must learn the value of asking questions, and peaking their curiosity. And while 30% of jobs will be eliminated by automation by the year 2030, 8 out of 10 jobs that year will require ingenuity, creativity and judgement.

While AI will continue to evolve, it is unlikely that science will ever be able to recreate the complexities of the brain or create a robot with human emotional intelligence – this will remain in the realm of science fiction. Humans will continue to outperform AI in emotional intelligence, and to this end, strong empathetic and interpersonal skills will become even more of a coveted commodity. The good news is that empathy and emotional intelligence can be taught. A Jewish day school is the ideal environment in which to teach these skills due to our values, including Derech Eretz and K’lal Yisrael.

Humans are social beings, and as technology has become more pervasive, we crave a human connection even more. So while AI and automation will eliminate many jobs, other jobs will remain impervious to the encroachment of AI and automation – doctors, teachers, nurses, innovators, people in the hospitality and entertainment businesses, consultants, skilled trades workers, etc. AI may eliminate certain aspects of these professions, but not the professions themselves as they also rely on emotional intelligence, a purely human quality.

There will come a time, in our children’s lifetime, that humans and robots will work side by side. It will be the soft-skills, and the human touch, that will be needed, and the individuals who excel in those skills will have the most opportunities.

Sometimes I am asked why I write about these issues in an ECC – 8th grade school. Aren’t these issues to be considered when the children are older? The answer is no. How our children learn and what they need to learn begin in the early years. Our job is not only to help our children develop a love for learning, and an understanding of how they each individually best learn; our job is also to help them to begin to develop the skills they will need as adults. In the coming weeks I will describe what this specifically looks like at Hillel using examples that come from our project-based learning approach.

I am confident that our children will grow up and inherit a world very different from ours. I am also confident that while this new world will provide unique challenges, as every period in human civilization has, I am also confident it will not be some sort of dystopia! In many ways, as we continue to focus on empathy, emotional intelligence, and the so-called “soft skills,” those very skills may not only make our children more employable, those same skills can and should be used to build a better world grounded in our Jewish values.

 

 

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