As machines and AI increasingly automate our world, the very nature of intelligence is changing.
How are dogs and rabbits alike?
This kind of question has been on IQ tests for years and the answer, it turns out, depends a good deal on which era you live in. Back in the down-home, cotton-spinning, 19th century you’d be right in thinking you use dogs to hunt rabbits. Shift forward to the glass-fronted skyscrapers of the 20th century Information Age and there was a new right answer; they are both mammals.
But, as humans leapfrog into the 21st century of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots and machine learning, is there an even newer answer? And if so, what is it?
It’s a fair bet Australian children will need to know if they are to reach the economic independence many of their parents take for granted.
The arrival of what MIT academics Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call The Second Machine Age will throw up unique challenges for the workers of tomorrow. In June the Productivity Commission warned we risk losing 40 per cent of jobs to automation in the next decade and it’s increasingly clear those jobs that do remain won’t follow the traditional time line.
“The old model is that you’re born and you go to school and you go to university and you get a job and you retire after 35 years with a gold pen,” said Jan Owen, chief executive of the Foundation for Young Australians.
In November the FYA released its latest report, The New Work Mindset, which will make grim reading for any young jobseekers expecting the linear work trajectory that was the norm for their grandparents. The report says today’s teenager can expect to hold 17 different jobs across five industries in their working life. And in an analysis of 2.7 million job ads the report found that across seven job clusters the likelihood of surviving automation varies dramatically.
“Carers” (e.g. GPs, social workers), “informers” (e.g. teachers, economists) and “technologists” (e.g. programmers, web developers) have the most bullish prospects while “artisans” (e.g. electrical engineering techs, mechanics) and “co-ordinators” (e.g. bookkeepers, receptionists) have the bleakest outlook in the face of automation.
And an earlier FYA report, released in April, suggests that as traditional occupations die out the ability to pivot between jobs will hinge on a critical set of skills.
“Our New Basics report analysed 4.2 million job advertisements in Australia to look at what employers were asking for, particularly for young people with under five years experience. They were asking for a set of enterprise skills,” said Owen.
The FYA has found those enterprise skills, including problem-solving, creativity, digital skills, teamwork, communication skills and critical thinking are not only a common requirement across jobs clusters but translate to hard cash, garnering up to $9000 more in annual income.
“Career advice is outdated,” said Owen, who is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Future Schools Conference in Melbourne.
“You cannot give career advice to a 15-year-old today who will have 17 jobs in five different industries. You have to have skills in career management…it’s kind of a build your own adventure.”
A crucial question for educators is what kind of intelligence we should be fostering in children to give that adventure a happy ending.
If you think intelligence is fixed for life the question itself might seem otiose, but the research of James Flynn, Emeritus Professor at the University of Otago, suggests intelligence is indeed a flexible trait that can, like a muscle, be strengthened with exercise.
And the kind of exercise it gets relates closely to the cognitive demands of the age.
Read the full feature in the Age newspaper here