Frank Levy and Richard Murnane wrote a book called The New Division of Labor in 2004: I only caught up with it last week. But it is one of those which gets better with time: It did not appear outdated, but rather more relevant, because the changes Levy and Murnane were predicting are already here and are driving the public debate.
One could treat this book as a treatise in Labour Economics and perhaps it does get treated like that. This is a tragedy, because this seems very much a book about education too. Surely, educators are somewhat weary of being lectured by the economists about education, and usually treat all the economic treatise about education with suspicion. And, as I figured out over the last year or so, this is not merely about the disciplinary difference: The disdain is political - economists are expected to focus on the 'wrong outcome', indeed economic value - and most educators tend to see this not just as an unwelcome encroachment of their territory, but a wholly subversive attempt to change the conversation.
However, this book concerns itself with a question that may be of interest to even the die-hard purists: Which jobs humans do better than computers? Even though the book was written a decade ago, Levy and Murnane were prescient, and the revolutionary changes in computing power have not made their observations outdated: The skills they highlighted, Expert Thinking and Complex Communication, still remain in human domain and are likely to remain there. Looking closely, this should warm the educators' hearts: Levy and Murnane were arguing about those 'woolly' things that we try to teach in 'Liberal Arts' (which is humanities and pure sciences) are the ones which count more than all those 'applied' skills we get so hung up about these days.
Expert Thinking, argues the authors, that goes beyond mere pattern recognition is extremely difficult for computers. Computers can possibly generate useful output given a clear input. But if the input is not clear, which is often the case in dealing with complex human problems, where people tend to 'forget', 'hold back', or 'make mistakes', input is never clear. And, besides, computers may find it extremely difficult to improvise, particularly when a problem is encountered for the first time: They can indeed come up with millions of alternatives within a matter of a second, something clearly beyond the capability of a human brain, but it would take an expert in most cases to make a judgement call.
Complex communication deals with similar problem sets, but in a different way. This time, humans are also the recipients of the output, which they will process as inputs for their behaviour. Indeed, the standard outputs of the computerised process may generate extremely variable behaviour among the recipients. And, this is not just about body language and tone of voice, which the computers are catching up on: This is rather about the context and culture, and above all, about trust and empathy. Communication is indeed a two-way process and there could be few rules to show empathy and becoming trustworthy, other than doing those things sincerely. It remains difficult to write a code to teach a computer sincerity.
Indeed, these observations, as I said before, sound even more valid today than they were in 2004. We now have Google Cars driving around in California and Warren Buffett seriously discussing that they may destroy the auto insurance industry in the next decade. There are more voice-activated systems dealing with customer service and bots doing sales chats online than ever. Kasparov's defeat by Deep Blue in 1997 has now been bested by Watson winning Jeopardy, but not just that: Last week, we learnt that Watson can now present an argument (read here). In summary, the developments the authors were talking about in 2004, are now getting to the capability levels that may start replacing human labour.
We can treat these developments with alarm, noting the shrinkage of the human domain, or with celebration of human ingenuity, as these things may be seen as a realisation of human imagination: Someone wrote these events down as Science Fiction first. And, indeed, Sci-Fi, the blend of expert thinking about what's possible, and complex communication, making it understandable and desirable, remains firmly in human territory. In fact, Sci-Fi demonstrates the third ability where humans may trump computers: Meta-cognition, or thinking about how to think. Imagining what might be comes with breaking down the barriers, which starts with why it is this way: Computerisation has gone from the level of the thermostats which turning down the heaters when the room reaches a certain temperature to asking why the heater should be turned down at all and adjusting itself with the outside temperature and number of people in the room, but it may still remain limited to turning the heater down rather than opening the window, even it had the capacity to do so, because that will involve judgements and 'mood', the domain of meta-cognition.
If the educators ignore this book as yet another economics treatise, it will be a tragedy for another reason: In this, they could find some of the strongest arguments against the current thinking about For-Profit driven educational expansion. The authors closely examine two very successful corporate learning programmes, Basic Blue for IBM Managers and CISCO Networking Academies for schools, and how a human-computer combination is driving the agenda. However, they also explore why these companies are doing what they are doing, and come to the expected conclusion that private money will almost always be directed to the areas of immediate pay-off. This, the authors argue, is limiting at a time when we need to change our education systems to create capabilities for the future (which is almost present now), and argues for a public role in this new kind of education.
Since 2004, however, it is the opposite argument which has gained ground. The educators have been told to tie themselves down ever more closely with the employers. Governments all over the world saw private investment as the panacea for education problem, and more or less started giving a free hand to For-Profit operators both in schools and in higher education. The role of the community is shrinking, partly because the educators have responded the challenge posed by technology with denial and disdain. And, more and more money has been poured into training for skills and abilities which will be redundant sooner. Given this, this 2004 book has become more and more relevant.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.