Future-proofing your kids: how to prepare your kids for the world that is not yet there

reading time: approx. 6-7 min

How can we prepare our kids for the world that doesn’t exist yet? Which skills will they need in order to succeed? Should we focus on the technical side and teach everybody to code and program? Or should we go for the soft skills like interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence? Of course any additional skill is an asset and the more of these assets kids have the better, however, what is actually crucial? I have been thinking a lot about these questions and no, of course, I don’t have the right answers. Yet, what I do want to share is some more structured context as a basis for further discussion. In the end it is not only our kids, most probably we will still see the completely new world ourselves…

To begin with, the World Economic Forum of this year in the report The Future of Jobs identified a list of skills that will be important for the future:

  • complex problem solving,
  • critical thinking,
  • creativity,
  • people management,
  • coordinating with others,
  • emotional intelligence,
  • judgement and decision-making,
  • service orientation,
  • negotiation,
  • cognitive flexibility.

Well, you cannot go wrong with these ones, they are relevant in all times! But to think further about it: what does the skill “coordinating with others” mean and what if “others” in the future will also include machine intelligence? And what a hell is “service orientation” after all?

In the essence this is already not the world we were born into and it is going to be even more different within this and a decade. Right here and now we are already a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: there are significant developments in such fields as artificial intelligence and machine learning, in robotics, in nanotechnology, in 3D printing, in genetics and biotech. All this is already causing a huge disruption in all domains, calling for different models of working and different skills. I don’t have the magic ball to tell what the future will look like, yet in couple of next paragraphs I would like to fantasize a bit and based on some trends try to imagine which skills might be needed in some particular contexts. I would be very interested to hear other opinions, so if you have something to say – please shoot!

What will the business of tomorrow look like and which skills will help one to succeed? If I look at the trends in various business domains, I am likely to agree with Lisa Gansky that the future of business is very likely to be something of a mesh (for more on that – check out her book “The Mesh”). In the essence that will mean sharing all kinds of stuff be it via smart and technology-enabled rental or just peer-to-peer. What it implies is actually a fundamental shift in our relationship with stuff and this is already happening. Which skills does a success in such business environment call for? I would assume among others:

  • ability to communicate efficiently and even more importantly:
  • ability to create and sustain a community around an idea,

because that’s what’s at the very heart of “the mesh”.

In terms of business and economics one also cannot forget the significant systemic risk of fragility that is caused by the “inter-connectedness” and the growing complexity of this world. Moreover, this complexity makes it close to impossible to have all the information normally required to make a decision. Thus, in order to succeed one has to:

  • be creative enough to be able to construct a big picture based on fragmented input and
  • take decisions in conditions of uncertainty and rapid evolution.

In the field of technology there have also been quite some significant developments recently: cloning, 3D printing, robotics. Have a look at what Boston Dynamics create for instance, it’s amazing! In terms of medical innovation: consider, for example, how hearing aids evolved in the last decade. It will not take long before we are able to hear ultrasound. Or lenses: I am pretty convinced that one day we will be able to see ultraviolet or ultra-red and that will be mundane. Moreover, the first fully programmable cell is there! And speaking about cells – skin cells can be turned into stem cells nowadays, providing enormous possibilities in terms of regeneration. So, having some sort of physical impairment will be less of a problem and more people will also have “not original”: bio or biomechatronic body parts, making them what? Exactly! Cyborgs.

It goes further: maybe within this and a decade we will have some sort of hybrid thinking. Think about it for a moment, it’s no longer just a science fiction! You have probably heard of neocortex – that part of our brains that among others is responsible for learning new behaviors. This is in the essence what distinguishes a more complex brain. But with the rapidly developing nanotechnology there is a huge potential here: what if nanobots in the future are able to get to the brain and connect our physical neocortex to the synthetic neocortex in the cloud? What would that possibility to get outside the limits of fixed architecture of our skulls bring us? Have a look at TED for Ray Kurzweil – in his speech “Get ready for hybrid thinking” he talks more about it.

Another at this moment still futuristic technology of ingesting information might one (not that remote) day also manifest itself. Have a look in this context for some speculations about the future by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of MIT’s Media Lab. He believes it will one day be possible to swallow a pill and then through the bloodstream the information will get into the brain and will be deposited in the right place. If that is ever possible our kids will no longer need to spend hours and hours learning another language, or learning math, or learning to code, or – you name it.

Here some caveats, however, and significant ones. First, let’s be realistic that all these technologies will be available for the lucky few in the developed world; and second, one can easily step on the tricky road of eugenics. So, as for the “skills inspired” by the above the most important in my opinion is:

  • having strong ethics, which also includes, but is not limited to:
    • ability to understand and appreciate what you have, combined with
    • understanding that others might be less fortunate and
    • willingness and drive to improve this imbalance. 

What else? Machines already learn! But what does that imply? Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford) speculates that:

“machine intelligence is the last thing that a human will need to invent”.

From then on, the machine will take over. And that poses a very big question of values. If the machine intelligence will go for an optimization of this planet, there is no place for a human anymore – hello, Hollywood!

But seriously… Efficiency without compassion, without love, empathy and caring – it’s a doom scenario for humanity. So we have to be able to teach the machine to learn what we value and to be able to do that one:

  • needs to have strong value foundation and
  • be able to stand for these values.

And which are these values? It’s a question for a separate post, but let’s stick to compassion and empathy for starters.

I mentioned 3D printing and we already see some fantastic applications of this invention. But there is also a dark side to it related to crimes. 3D printing means that you don’t really need to carry a gun to the destination, all you need is a file and a 3D printer at the spot. What is also scary is that the human body is likewise becoming an information technology, where DNA one day will be yet another operating system ready to be hacked.

I am not going to talk in more detail about the crimes of the future, yet what is important to remember is that the ability of one to affect many is scaling exponentially as you are reading this, and not only in a good sense. Moreover, now, more than any time before we are actually capable of completely destroying  our planet. Thus, yuppie to the last year’s discovery of water on Mars – maybe that’s the answer. But on the serious tone, an additional essential skill for the future that I would single out is:

  • an ability to forecast even the unintended consequences of one’s actions and take full responsibility for them.

There are much more developments in different domains than what I have enumerated in this post and probably more skills needed for our kids to be successful. However, without trying to belittle the importance of technical skills I am inclined to conclude that it is mostly the soft side that requires to be “strengthened”. To conclude, it is not going to be an easy world our kids will step into, but something tells me, if equipped right they will have hell of a ride!

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6 thoughts on “Future-proofing your kids: how to prepare your kids for the world that is not yet there”

  1. I really like your article. It’s really detailled.
    I think we have to pay more and more attention about how our kids will grow up and which skills we want them to develop.
    I think IT and communication can be a great match.
    Great values can also be good and we have to teach them how to distinguish right/wrong.

    Like

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