On Technology readiness for the future:
In the year 1859 Charles Dickens began his famous novel ‘ A Tale of Two Cities’ with the immortal lines ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . .”
This contrast between those who are future-ready and those who are not is very stark today. Compare the 2.3 million graduates some with Engineering and PhD degrees applying for a few hundred jobs as peons ( which also none got) and the large number who have been successful in the world of IT and entrepreneurship. The success that we see of IIT graduates today was the result of their future readiness in the 1960’s for the last decades of the Twentieth Century and the first decade of the Twenty first Century.
If we want to succeed in the 2030s and beyond we have to anticipate a future being shaped by emerging technologies of IT, energy, medicine and their intersections and convergences.
Some part of this future can be anticipated and projected, but there will be disruptions along the way. We therefore have to prepare for a VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.
This quest for what is worth learning for an uncertain changing world, leads us to suggest that ‘lifeworthy knowledge’ and ‘timeless Lifeskills’ are the twin pillars on which the preparation for the future is founded.
There is a very appropriate quotation from Eric Hoffer: In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
We can be complacent with what we have achieved in the last 2 decades with the opportunity provided by the Y2K situation, the emergence of the web and the proliferation of IT. As the pace of technological development accelerates we have on the future horizon a whole new set of opportunities and challenges.
Some of the clear global mega-trends are:
* The importance of Big Data and its analysis and insights with implications for business, Governance, Healthcare and education
* The acceleration in the creation of the infrastructure supporting the Internet of things
* The realisation of digital additive manufacturing across almost all sectors of manufacturing possibly resulting in the destruction of low cost and large scale manufacturing as a competitive advantage
* The general purpose robot transforming labour as evidenced in the mining operations of companies like Rio Tinto and in the service sector by the Tokyo Hotel run entirely by robots
* Drones as ‘robots that fly’ replacing foot folders and not demanding ‘one rank one pension’ greatly undermining the importance of human armies.
* Machine intelligence as demonstrated by the IBM technology of Watson and their availability in a large number of human endeavours
If we look at the implications of the above mega-trends we can foresee a very different world from what we have today. Where old roles and tasks disappear and completely new opportunities to create new economic, social and political worlds are abundant.
Closer home, there are 2 interesting recent developments worthy of note. One is the Nasscom report projecting that the IT industry will create significant value during the coming decades. But will create the same value with lesser people as the productivity per overdone us greatly enhanced with the emerging technologies.
The other which is being vehemently opposed and resisted by the software industry is the possibility of software and business methods bring patented. The industry which has got do used to ‘harvesting what it dud not sow’ is up in arms against acknowledging Intellectual Property in software, much like counterfeiters opposed efforts to control manufacturing of pirated and counterfeit goods.
But together these trends will have a very salutary and sobering effect on our youth.
It is an old adage that ‘ necessity is the mother if invention’.
And creativity, imagination, invention and innovation will be the only way forward to flourish, prosper and thrive in the future. The seekers of protection, reservation, subsidies etc. will perish. That has been the story of evolution and Darwin has enunciated its twin principles rather elegantly.
So the goal of learning changes from today’s ability ” to be able to repeat what is given in the book without looking at it” to being able to apply and build in what one has learnt to create new solutions and newer technologies.
So the answer to the question of ‘ what is worth learning?’ is not ‘what is in demand today’ but rather ‘ what computers, software, robots and drones cannot do tomorrow’.
And the answer to the question of ‘what is worth doing with your learning ?’ is not ‘ getting an AICTE approved qualification’ but being able to create new Intellectual Property that is possibly patentable and solves erstwhile unsolvable problems.
This is the path to follow.