Tag Archives: post-digital technologies

Preparing the Next Generation for a Post-Digital Age

Preparing the Next Generation for a Post-Digital Age

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

An education is supposed to prepare you for the future. Traditionally, that meant learning certain facts and skills, like when Columbus discovered America or how to do long division. Today, curricula have shifted to focus on a more global and digital world, like cultural history, basic computer skills and writing code.

Yet the challenges that our kids will face will be much different than we did growing up and many of the things a typical student learns in school today will no longer be relevant by the time he or she graduates college. In fact, a study at the University of Oxford found that 47% of today’s jobs will be eliminated over the next 20 years.

In 10 or 20 years, much of what we “know” about the world will no longer be true. The computers of the future will not be digital. Software code itself is disappearing, or at least becoming far less relevant. Many of what are considered good jobs today will be either automated or devalued. We need to rethink how we prepare our kids for the world to come.

Understanding Systems

The subjects we learned in school were mostly static. 2+2 always equaled 4 and Columbus always discovered America in 1492. Interpretations may have differed from place to place and evolved over time, but we were taught that the world was based on certain facts and we were evaluated on the basis on knowing them.

Yet as the complexity theorist Sam Arbesman has pointed out, facts have a half life and, as the accumulation of knowledge accelerates, those half lives are shrinking. For example, when we learned computer programming in school, it was usually in BASIC, a now mostly defunct language. Today, Python is the most popular language, but will likely not be a decade from now.

Computers themselves will be very different as well, based less on the digital code of ones and zeros and more on quantum laws and the human brain. We will likely store less information on silicon and more in DNA. There’s no way to teach kids how these things will work because nobody, not even experts, is quite sure yet.

So kids today need to learn less about how things are today and more about the systems future technologies will be based on, such as quantum mechanics, genetics and the logic of code. One thing economists have consistently found is that it is routine jobs that are most likely to be automated. The best way to prepare for the future is to develop the ability to learn and adapt.

Applying Empathy And Design Skills

While machines are taking over many high level tasks, such as medical analysis and legal research, there are some things they will never do. For example, a computer will never strike out in a Little League game, have its heart broken or see its child born. So it is very unlikely, if not impossible, that a machine will be able to relate to a human like other humans can.

That absence of empathy makes it hard for machines to design products and processes that will maximize enjoyment and utility for humans. So design skills are likely to be in high demand for decades to come as basic production and analytical processes are increasingly automated.

We’ve already seen this process take place with regard to the Internet. In the early days, it was a very technical field. You had to be a highly skilled engineer to make a website work. Today, however, building a website is something any fairly intelligent high school student can do and much of the value has shifted to front-end tasks, like designing the user experience.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and virtual reality our experiences with technology will become more far immersive and that will increase the need for good design. For example, conversational analysts (yes, that’s a real job) are working with designers to create conversational intelligence for voice interfaces and, clearly, virtual reality will be much more design intensive than video ever was.

The Ability To Communicate Complex Ideas

Much of the recent emphasis in education has been around STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and proficiency in those areas is certainly important for today’s students to understand the world around them. However, many STEM graduates are finding it difficult to find good jobs.

On the other hand, the ability to communicate ideas effectively is becoming a highly prized skill. Consider Amazon, one of the most innovative and technically proficient organizations on the planet. However, a key factor to its success its writing culture. The company is so fanatical about the ability to communicate that developing good writing skills are essential to building a successful career there.

Think about Amazon’s business and it becomes clear why. Sure, it employs highly adept engineers, but to create a truly superior product those people need to collaborate closely with designers, marketers, business development executives and others. To coordinate all that activity and keep everybody focused on delivering a specific experience to the customer, communication needs to be clear and coherent.

So while learning technical subjects like math and science is always a good idea, studying things like literature, history and philosophy is just as important.

Collaborating And Working In Teams

Traditionally, school work has been based on individual accomplishment. You were supposed to study at home, come in prepared and take your test without help. If you looked at your friend’s paper, it was called cheating and you got in a lot of trouble for it. We were taught to be accountable for achievements on our own merits.

Yet consider how the nature of work has changed, even in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were written by sole authors, but by 1950 that had changed and co-authorship became the norm. Today, the average paper has four times as many authors as it did then and the work being done is far more interdisciplinary and done at greater distances than in the past.

Make no mistake. The high value work today is being done in teams and that will only increase as more jobs become automated. The jobs of the future will not depend as much on knowing facts or crunching numbers, but will involve humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines. Collaboration will increasingly be a competitive advantage.

That’s why we need to pay attention not just to how our kids work and achieve academically, but how they play, resolve conflicts and make others feel supported and empowered. The truth is that value has shifted from cognitive skills to social skills. As kids will increasingly be able to learn complex subjects through technology, the most important class may well be recess.

Perhaps most of all, we need to be honest with ourselves and make peace with the fact that our kids educational experience will not — and should not — mirror our own. The world which they will need to face will be far more complex and more difficult to navigate than anything we could imagine back in the days when Fast Times at Ridgemont High was still popular.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credits: Pixabay

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The End of the Digital Revolution

Here’s What You Need to Know

The End of the Digital Revolution

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

The history of digital technology has largely been one of denial followed by disruption. First came the concept of the productivity paradox, which noted the limited economic impact of digital technology. When e-commerce appeared, many doubted that it could ever compete with physical retail. Similar doubts were voiced about digital media.

Today, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of digital technology. Whole industries have been disrupted. New applications driven by cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain promise even greater advancement to come. Every business needs to race to adopt them in order to compete for the future.

Ironically, amid all this transformation the digital revolution itself is ending. Over the next decade, new computing architectures will move to the fore and advancements in areas like synthetic biology and materials science will reshape entire fields, such as healthcare, energy and manufacturing. Simply waiting to adapt won’t be enough. The time to prepare is now.

1. Drive Digital Transformation

As I explained in Mapping Innovation, innovation is never a single event, but a process of discovery, engineering and transformation. Clearly, with respect to digital technology, we are deep into the transformation phase. So the first part of any post-digital strategy is to accelerate digital transformation efforts in order to improve your competitive position.

One company that’s done this very well is Walmart. As an old-line incumbent in the physical retail industry, it appeared to be ripe for disruption as Amazon reshaped how customers purchased basic items. Why drive out to a Walmart store for a package of toothpaste when you can just click a few buttons on your phone?

Yet rather than ceding the market to Amazon, Walmart has invested heavily in digital technology and has achieved considerable success. It wasn’t any one particular tactic or strategy made the difference, but rather the acknowledgment that every single process needed to be reinvented for the digital age. For example, the company is using virtual reality to revolutionize how it does in-store training.

Perhaps most of all, leaders need to understand that digital transformation is human transformation. There is no shortage of capable vendors that can implement technology for you. What’s key, however, is to shift your culture, processes and business model to leverage digital capabilities.

2. Explore Post-Digital Technologies

While digital transformation is accelerating, advancement in the underlying technology is slowing down. Moore’s law, the consistent doubling of computer chip performance over the last 50 years, is nearing its theoretical limits. It has already slowed down considerably and will soon stop altogether. Yet there are non-digital technologies under development that will be far more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen before.

Consider Intel, which sees its future in what it calls heterogeneous computing combining traditional digital chips with non-digital architectures, such as quantum and neuromorphic. It announced a couple of years ago its Pohoiki Beach neuromorphic system that processes information up to 1,000 times faster and 10,000 more efficiently than traditional chips for certain tasks.

IBM has created a network to develop quantum computing technology, which includes research labs, startups and companies that seek to be early adopters of the technology. Like neuromorphic computing, quantum systems have the potential to be thousands, if not millions, of times more powerful than today’s technology.

The problem with these post-digital architectures is that no one really knows how they are going to work. They operate on a very different logic than traditional computers, will require new programming languages and algorithmic strategies. It’s important to start exploring these technologies now or you could find yourself years behind the curve.

3. Focus on Atoms, Not Bits

The digital revolution created a virtual world. My generation was the first to grow up with video games and our parents worried that we were becoming detached from reality. Then computers entered offices and Dan Bricklin created Visicalc, the first spreadsheet program. Eventually smartphones and social media appeared and we began spending almost as much time in the virtual world as we did in the physical one.

Essentially, what we created was a simulation economy. We could experiment with business models in our computers, find flaws and fix them before they became real. Computer-aided design (CAD) software allowed us to design products in bits before we got down to the hard work of shaping atoms. Because it’s much cheaper to fail in the virtual world than the physical one, this made our economy much more efficient.

Yet the next great transformation will be from bits to atoms. Digital technology is creating revolutions in things like genomics and materials science. Artificial intelligence and cloud computing are reshaping fields like manufacturing and agriculture. Quantum and neuromorphic computing will accelerate these trends.

Much like those new computing architectures, the shift from bits to atoms will create challenges. Applying the simulation economy to the world of atoms will require new skills and we will need people with those skills to move from offices in urban areas to factory floors and fields. They will also need to learn to collaborate effectively with people in those industries.

4. Transformation is Always a Journey, Never a Destination

The 20th century was punctuated by two waves of disruption. The first, driven by electricity and internal combustion, transformed almost every facet of daily life and kicked off a 50-year boom in productivity. The second, driven by the microbe, the atom and the bit, transformed fields such as agriculture, healthcare and management.

Each of these technologies followed the pattern of discovery, engineering and transformation. The discovery phase takes place mostly out of sight, with researchers working quietly in anonymous labs. The engineering phase is riddled with errors, as firms struggle to shape abstract concepts into real products. A nascent technology is easy to ignore, because its impact hasn’t been felt yet.

The truth is that disruption doesn’t begin with inventions, but when an ecosystem emerges to support them. That’s when the transformation phase begins and takes us by surprise, because transformation never plays out like we think it will. The future will always, to a certain extent, unpredictable for the simple reason that it hasn’t happened yet.

Today, we’re on the brink of a new era of innovation that will be driven by new computing architectures, genomics, materials science and artificial intelligence. That’s why we need to design our organizations for transformation by shifting from vertical hierarchies to horizontal networks.

Most of all, we need to shift our mindsets from seeing transformation as set of discreet objectives to a continuous journey of discovery. Digital technology has only been one phase of that journey. The most exciting things are still yet to come.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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