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Are they ready?

Thoughts on AI proof education

Are we preparing our children with the skills and mental models that'll empower them to survive (and thrive) in the year 2050? The uncomfortable fact is no. The vast majority of children spend their time in schools learning outdated skills and mental models. Their schools are preparing them for a fantasy world that doesn't exist.

I recently visited my high school after almost a decade to speak to an after school robotics group and the group met in my same physics classroom. When I walked in I was shocked. It was if I had walked into a time capsule, the room had not changed in the slightest. I even remember a few of the same motivational posters on the wall. But think how drastically the outside world changed in that past decade.

If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow. - John Dewey

If you're a parent, I challenge you to ask your child's teacher exactly how they're preparing them for a future of artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, additive manufacturing, genetic engineering and the like. You'll most likely receive a puzzled look and then a muddled response about 'people skills'. The truth is that they have no idea. And this seems to be why society at large is so concerned about AI. The big question is, what will humans do? A question educators must answer, but are woefully unable to address.

At Dexter we have an answer to this question, learn a new language. Computers are 'smarter' than humans precisely because they speak a fundamentally different type of language. Computer language is dynamic, process based, computational. You can speak concepts into existence that aren't static nouns, but that are dynamic verbs. Computer language is living and breathing. It allows its user to describe processes (and things) in a much more encompassing way. In fact, all physical processes can be simulated on a computer.

To thrive in a world dominated by algorithms - students must speak and think fluently in computer language. This is the insight that fueled Douglas Rushkoff's great book, Program or Be Programmed. Something amazing happens when you become fluent in computer language - it changes the way you think. The movie Arrival is a complete mapping to what we're talking about. Except the aliens didn't land in a giant space ship, they landed in small space ships sitting on every desk and in every pocket in America. By learning the language of these strange visitors, it changes how the learner approaches reality and problem solving in general. You see things as systems and processes, dynamically changing in non-linear ways, whereas english sees things as fixed platonic objects. Ok, so learn to speak computer language fluently... what about subjects like history, art, social studies, etc?

Students learn these subjects through the lens of their new found fluency in computer language. They describe and explore these subjects not with traditional english, but with code. The easiest example to grasp is in a subject like physics. Students learn Newton's laws not by remembering dry formula, but by recreating them in code. They'd create a simulation of various physical phenomenon, creating a deep intuition along the way due the simple fact that in order to program something, to speak something into existence with computer code, you must understand it algorithmically. Daniel Shiffman's, Nature of Code, is a great example of this type of learning. This same methodology is just as applicable to non-obvious areas of study like sociology or art. Want to understand racial bias in prison sentencing? Write a computer program that analyzes a public data set and visualize the results in virtual reality. Want to bring out a students inner artist? Empower them with code.

Every subject becomes a type of question quest that's explored using code. These simulations from Colorado PhET point towards the type of creations students will build and share among themselves to more comprehensibly convey and explore ideas.

As AI bears down on our way of life, we're a bit like an indigenous tribe watching the awe inspiring sails of the European explorers approaching their shores. Having the ability to communicate with these seemingly incomprehensible foreign intruders seems like a good first step as we prepare for their arrival.

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