What should we teach our kids now that Knowledge is Obsolete? Part 1 – the Questions

OK, I was inspired by Pavan Arora, Director of Content at IBM Watson a few weeks ago when he spoke at the Information Development World Conference in San Jose.  He went way beyond the (rather creepy) IBM Watson video he showed, and put some reason and life into their concept of the new Cognitive Era that’s emerging.

  1. He said that the amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every two years. And this will accelerate as cognitive computing allows us to tap into all the unstructured data/information out there that was previously inaccessible. (I’m going to ignore what ‘knowledge’ actually means, and take this at face value for now.)
  2. There is more knowledge being created/uncovered in the world than any human being can absorb or understand or keep up with.  For example, even if doctors spend all their time reading the latest clinical research, they still couldn’t get through it all, let alone meet with patients and apply it. I expect this has been true for quite a while, but with the acceleration of information creation, it’s getting way beyond coping stages.
  3. Example 1: doctors can’t know all possible diseases, symptoms, etc. But they can query IBM Watson which can provide the most likely diagnoses to a certain set of symptoms, and provide the doctor with the information he needs to start with, so he can help the patient. 
  4. Example 2: have a look at this video showing how engineers can be walked through how to assemble technical gear. Amazing, wonderful…but hey, the engineer doesn’t need quite the skills or knowledge he had before. Turns this job into a picker in a warehouse job, really – need accuracy, speed, focus, but not an engineering or technical degree?
  5. Computers will surely take over many existing jobs – including knowledge worker jobs –  and we probably will see an even bigger income divide. Not due to exploitation or discrimination (like the mainstream narrative likes to insist), but due to the specialized skills needed, which will be in short supply, so those who have developed them will be paid more.

So what do kids need to know and learn to be successful and what skills will they need as the Cognitive Era comes about?

  • Memorizing facts and mastering a subject is not where it’s at, clearly.
  • What are the skills I need to be sure my kids learn outside of school? It’s a bit ridiculous to count on public K-12 schooling to take care of it – new approaches to learning would take decades to make their way around.
  • What resources and extra-curricular activities exist online or physically, that are worth exploring?

I’m working on Part 2: skills they need and Part 3: What do do as a parent.  With kids in 5th grade and 8th grade, I really want to do whatever I can outside of school for their learning.

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