The Androids Are Coming! The Androids Are Coming!

The Androids Are Coming!

Make no mistake about it: the droids are coming for your jobs.” But check the hyperlink—there is more to Andrew McAfee’s TED video than meets the eye.

Must we conjure the ghost of Paul Revere, saddle up our horse and set out on our own Midnight Ride? Must we warn the unwitting masses that the droids are coming?

Might not be necessary: a thousand users just tweeted it.

Well, do we need to find a horse? After all, that was what Mr. Revere chose for his ride. If we instead fire up our horseless carriage—the Prius in the driveway—does that mean that we have put some poor blacksmith out of work?

Probably—but in 2015, perhaps the blacksmith will prefer to work in the new hybrid auto plant opening in the U.S.

Nowadays, few, including union supporters and labor advocates, would side with the Luddites, who insisted that technology was the problem. In fact, for solving the very problems caused by technology, such as global warming, many would argue that technology is part of the solution.

Although some audiophiles argue that vinyl sounds better than silicon, and vacuum tubes have better bass response than transistors, those claims, even if true, are unlikely to turn back the clock. There would be precious few reasons to replace our IPADs with mainframe computers. I doubt that students will rush to replace their TI graphing calculators with room-sized ENIACs. Who among you is about to sell your multi- terabyte hard drive on EBay, so that you can replace it with a reel-to-reel tape deck?.

Moore’s law correctly predicted that the number of transistors in microchips would double every two years—check the graph from 1971 to 2011. Does that mean that microchips have led to an exponential decrease in jobs?

Greater productivity does not necessarily mean fewer jobs. That would be an oversimplification.

Technological innovation does mean that young people must constantly reinvent and retrain themselves to keep pace with changes in technology. It does mean that class warfare will be waged between corporations, government, and the middle class. Corporations will try to outsource when that is profitable, and indigenous workers will demand protection from their government. The developing world will compete for jobs with developed nations.

And it does mean that the droids are definitely coming for some of your jobs. That means that we had better prepare students for the new kinds of jobs they will have in the future.

There is also another side to this story. Smartphones and tablets have spawned entirely new industries, created thousands of apps and associated enterprises, brought us accessible digital music, new hardware, and a new e-learning landscape. Electronic books are providing global access to far more books than ever before. The barriers to entry for new authors to reach their audiences are way lower than ever before.

We should also not forget the following facts, which have been consistent from the time of the industrial revolution to the present:

  • New technologies transform economies throughout both developed and developing worlds.
  • New technologies increase per capita productive output.
  • New technologies transform the cultural landscape.
  • New technologies increase demand for new goods and services.
  • New technologies increase accessibility of knowledge throughout the world (except when suppressed by plutocrats or corrupt regimes).
  • New technologies create new opportunities for creative, industrious, and innovative people.
  • New technologies make goods and services affordable by larger numbers of people.
  • New technologies make it possible to sell goods and services at low cost while making higher profits by reaching millions of buyers.
  • New technologies increase competition and lower entry barriers.
  • New technologies permit buyers to demand and get higher quality.

So how is all of this relevant to education?

Simple: cloud computing and e-learning have already transformed the educational landscape. Further change is accelerating to the speed of light. We are so close to this change that we need to stand back to see the broad outlines. We are right at the base of an exponential curve of innovation. It is transforming virtually every aspect of the learning process.

Now here are the bullet points above, revisited with education and e-learning in mind:

  • E-learning transforms education throughout both developed and developing worlds.
  • E-learning technologies increase per capita productive output, for both producers (educators and teachers) and viewers (students).
  • E-learning transforms the cultural landscape of education.
  • E-learning increases demand for online access to knowledge, including foundations of critical subjects, such as math, that were missed in earlier classroom experiences.
  • E-learning increases accessibility of knowledge throughout the world.
  • E-learning technologies create new opportunities for creative, industrious, and innovative teachers, educators, technologists, entrepreneurs, and non-profits.
  • E-learning technologies makes education affordable for massive numbers of parents and students.
  • E-learning technologies offers education at low cost, while generating serious profits, by reaching millions of buyers (in for-profit enterprises).
  • New technologies increase competition for quality lectures, practice, and assessments in education, and lower the entry barriers for innovative teachers.
  • New technologies permit students to demand and receive higher quality educational services and materials.

Some teachers feel threatened by these changes, while others embrace the new technologies right in their own classrooms.

Many teachers now encourage their students to supplement their classroom experience with online resources. A rapidly increasing fraction of high school teachers are even letting students use their own mobile devices as powerful research tools right in the classroom. Hundreds of millions of views confirm that kids can and will voluntarily visit sites such as Khan Academy when they provide learning opportunities that the students missed, for whatever reason, in their previous classroom experience.

I will leave you with one last thought:

Just imagine the potential when the intelligence, creativity, empathy, and passion of teachers are combined with the power of e-learning technologies.

The results will undoubtedly be synergistic, and will take learning to a whole new level that most of us can hardly even imagine. What are the possible ways that teachers may collaborate with the droids in the future? We should seek out the visionaries who can imagine this. They will pave the way to a bright future.

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