This month’s episode considers the messy realities of education and the challenges in making real change. One of our biggest projects at Socos Labs has been the creation of Muse@Home, a system designed to help parents, grandparents, and other guardians raise amazing kids. Rather than building a game for kids to play by themselves, Muse offers caring adults shared activities to lift their children. We’d always hoped that Muse could find a home with kids that have none.
We’ve had a few opportunities to take Muse out of traditional households and into the lives that might need it the most. One case involved incarcerated teen parents–kids in prison who have kids of their own. Each month, they had one hour of court-ordered visitation time with their children, and we were asked to find the best way to spend that hour. Another case concerned group homes for children in central and western China whose parents worked in the bustling east. How could we connect them with loving but distant parents and avoid the terrible consequences of childhood trauma? In both of these cases, there were people that cared about the future of these kids, but either didn’t know them, or simply didn’t know what to do. Having worked on these projects, I know it’s possible to support caring adults in camps of refugees and displaced peoples.
Stage & Screen
Vivienne’s keynote “How to Robot-Proof Your Students” at last fall’s AC22 in Orlando, spurred a lot of conversation and has resulted in Vivienne being invited to give this talk at numerous educational conferences and school events continuing later into Spring of 2024!
Vivienne will be speaking about the future of AI for an tech gathering in Indianapolis, IN this August.
Looking towards the Fall, Vivienne will be back on the move making stops so far in Berlin, New Orleans, and Singapore, New York, Chicago, Athens… She'll also be visiting the Philippines for the first time to give a conference keynote in Manila!
Teach a Parent How to Fish
If you want to make a change in a child’s life, start by supporting the parents.
In a review of “early childhood enrichment programs”, successful programs
- “target both children and their caregivers”
- “engage caregivers and improve the home lives”
- Leading to boosts in both “cognitive and noncognitive skills”.
Outcomes improved across the board, with “participants in programs that enrich home environments grow up with better skills, jobs, earnings, marital stability, and health, as well as reduced participation in crime.”
Further analysis showed that “home-visiting programs that target parents” “activate and promote parenting skills of child caregivers.”
If you want to be a better parent, be a better person. Be the person you want your child to become.
Elite Endowments: The Elite Shall Inherit the earth
2 recent papers reveal how striving for “prestige”—and the dollars that follow it—can erode the ideals of academia. First, as university’s endowments grow, they don't use the extra cash to serve more students or offer more financial aid; they just get more selective and enroll fewer low-income and minority students to boost their rankings.
Despite preferential tax treatment on their endowments, many universities would rather hoard their wealth and remain exclusive country clubs. Alumni signal with their university, while the universities signal with their alumni. Driving an invirtuous cycle.
Choose students for lift, not endowments (though I suspect, when done right, the long-run endowments will be greater).
Second, this concentration of prestige also affects faculty as a “small minority of universities supply a large majority of faculty across fields, exacerbated by patterns of attrition and reflecting steep hierarchies of prestige”.
There have been gains in women's representation over the past decade, but they are mostly due to demographic turnover and earlier changes in hiring.
Of course, none of this proves there is a problem. Perhaps a long tailed population of relatively limited numbers of highly talented people, likely to have earned their way into elite universities, dominate the labor market. How could we test for bias?
Two populations might be measured to estimate the degree of bias vs elite value-add.
- Are individuals that attended elite programs in part for non-meritocratic reasons (e.g., legacies) still substantially more likely to be professors than propensity matched peers?
- We know there is greater attrition in women—how does this interact with the elite pedigree effect?
I have so many book chapters both written or in development on education, but the “Muse” chapter itself is still in the works. So, here is “This is Not the Industrial Revolution” from How to Robot-Proof Your Kids, available now on our site.
“Now we need schools to teach every kid how to program...and STEM and AI, so we can send them all to university. Programming is the future of work!”
– Pompous Mansplainer
“This is just like the Industrial Revolution; AI will create more jobs than it destroys,” he informs me after my keynote on the future of work. “I don’t know why you’re so worried about it. You should read the World Economic Forum report on how AI will empower everyone. Just like all of the weavers that founded the fashion industry, AI will create super doctors by taking away all of the busywork and leaving only the fun stuff. We’re already teaching coal miners how to program. Now we need schools to teach every kid how to program...and STEM and AI, so we can send them all to university. Programming is the future of work! And social skills! AI can’t do social, so we can train everyone else’s kids to be elder care workers. We don’t even need universities anymore; we can just send them all to trade school to get upskilled. I didn’t attend your keynote but the problem with it is that ATMs actually created teller jobs. The gig and sharing economies give workers all the power to do what they want to do, but we might have to pay some people to do nothing. That’s what’s so great about AI: it always makes people more creative. It’s just like the Industrial Revolution.”
I somehow find myself face-to-face with these Rubenesque cartoons of late-stage male CEO-hood on a semi-regular basis. They’re always desperate to mansplain my own research to me. Many of the conversations start with a non-apology about not even having attended my talk, but then follow a rather vague tour through an echochamber of thought leadership pieces that they’ve skimmed, all of which supposedly prove that I’m wrong. I’m told repeatedly that AI will create more jobs than it destroys (something that I have never disputed). And always the mantra: “It’s just like the Industrial Revolution.”
And it’s not just pompous jackasses like the not-so-strawman above. I have read 116 policy papers on the future of work. IEEE, McKinsey, the White House, the UN, the UK, the World Economic Forum–everyone has a policy paper on the future of work. They are all wrong1.
I recognize how ludicrous it is to suggest that the armies of brilliant, informed authors behind these policy papers are all wrong. In defense of my arrogance, I first offer the virtual cut-and-paste quality of so many of these “insights”, all launched off the back of the original WEF “Fourth Industrial Revolution” concept. But much more meaningfully, they all seem to be answering the wrong questions.
Is today really like the Industrial Revolution? The answer is nuanced and complex (which never makes anyone happy) but essentially, no. Will AI create more jobs than it destroys? I don’t know definitively, but it seems very likely that it will create many jobs.
Rather than simply speculating on AI job creation, we should be asking an entirely different set of questions. Who will be qualified for these jobs? Did the rising automation during the Industrial Revolution directly increase or drive creativity, or is this just lazy myth making? Do we, in fact, misunderstand what the Industrial Revolution was2? And perhaps the most important question: where do creative people actually come from?
- The only paper on the future of work that seemed to say something truly new was the Shift Commission survey on what workers want. We’ll come back to that later, but suffice it to say, their vision of the future is distinctly different than most “thought leaders”.
- That “we”, by the way, leaves out actual scholars of the Industrial Revolution, just like so much opinion-making today. Why ask an expert when I already have a perfectly sellible opinion (which just happens to be what so many in power want to buy).
Subscribers can read the entire chapter here.