Saturday, October 03, 2015

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future

There are famous opening lines in fiction.  Like, "Call me Ismael." Or, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  "Mother died today" is another opener and so is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  The first sentence sets up the reader for what is to come later on.

We lesser mortals suck at powerful and memorable opening lines, especially in reports and op-eds.  But, every once in a while, I do find one, which is what happened earlier this morning, when I read this:
Only the brave or foolhardy would claim knowledge about the shape of jobs for the next decade, let alone the rest of the 21st century.
Kaboom!  TKO right away.

The next time the university lets out yet another stinking fart that is disguised as as a degree program with stellar employment potential, I should remember to quote them that sentence.  But then I keep forgetting that I am incommunicado ;)
So if we’re not sure what the jobs of the future will look like, what kind of tertiary education can prepare students for the world of work?
Isn't that the gazillion dollar question!

Last week, during the introductory meetings, I shared with students my thoughts on higher education, which were not that different from what I have been telling students for years: they are not preparing for a job, but are investing their time and money in order to pick up valuable skills that will help them adapt to changes that will keep coming at rates even faster than the changes that we have experienced until now.  The more they can easily adapt, the more they will be able to survive in the brutal global economic landscape of tomorrow.

If only they, and everybody else too, would listen to me!  If only I, too, didn't suffer Cassandra's curse of nobody believing what I see coming ;)  So, I will instead quote someone who has some street creds:
Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” 
Oh well ... nobody cares about all these anyway.  It is a strange world in which I find myself!

If I were feeling optimistic, I would be tempted to end this with one of the best final sentences ever: "After all, tomorrow is another day."  But then, as I peer into the future in which I see a whole lot of automation, artificial intelligence, and big data on every one of us--all of which I often blog about as well--another closing sentence appeals even more: "He loved Big Brother." ;)


Ramesh said...

No, I won't love Big Brother !!

We've debated this before. I believe the allure of liberal arts comes with age. Its difficult to find it at 18 !

The work based degrees indeed cannot guarantee a bright economic future. But it can improve the probability, often substantially. For eg if you do a MBA at Harvard, there are very high chances that you'll make enough money to get by. And that is the attraction. You can , but, try and increase your probability of economic success.

That economic success does not equate to happiness in life is a lesson we all learn as we age. Some economic success is necessary, for without it, we would have an empty stomach. But it obviously cannot be the sole objective and a uni dimensional approach to life, whatever that dimension may be, is not a recipe anybody would prescribe.

Frankly, I love memorable last lines even more than memorable first lines. Remember " Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" or " He stopped under a No Smoking sign to light a cigar"

Sriram Khé said...

The economic aspects continue in the next post ;)

I googled to find out about "He stopped under a No Smoking sign to light a cigar" ... turns out that it is from the old Arthur Hailey book. I suppose all of us in those years in that context eagerly read practically the same set of fictional works. (Except, I gave up Jeeves after reading only one Wodehouse!) I remember well that novel, though I had no idea about the final sentence until I googled it. I wonder why you so distinctly remember that ...

Anne in Salem said...

YOu got my favorite in the opening lines. I've read all her novels as well as a couple of biographies.

I agree with both of you. My liberal arts education prepared me for my post-graduate life as a volunteer and in the workforce. I was/am involved in diverse fields because I can think, not just process. Yet, I will not discourage my technically-talented son from his engineering goals simply because liberal arts helped me. To get a job in robotics, he has to have a related degree. My history major wouldn't stand a chance against a MechE in a job search. I have to trust that my example in his first 18 years and beyond and the gen ed requirements of the university will supply the balance, broadness and curiosity he needs to be a happy, productive person.

Sriram Khé said...

Unlike the engineering programs in India, the curriculum in universities--especially the good ones--here in the US include a good dose of liberal education via gen.ed. In fact, one of the discussions that *interested* faculty in respected universities engage in is how to make engineering (including CS) more liberal education and less "vocation education." After all, we have enough and more evidence that scientific and technological pursuits that discount thinking about humans and humanity can lead to destructive inventions.

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