Education as a Hedge Against the Future by Scott Smith



We like to worry about what we'll be doing decades from now. "Ten New Jobs of the Future!" or similar headline formulations constitute a familiar trope in foresight—imagining the strange new roles we might play, or familiar ones that may disappear and leave us with no means of support. Whatever the prognostication about tomorrow, most industrial societies do a poor job of preparing their young for those futures through educational choices. This problem is compounded when employment decisions are so closely tied to faulty educational options.

Susan Cox-Smith has just written about these education nightmares in a piece for Medium, "What is the Real Value of a College Degree?" In it, she asks a basic question, "Is the narrow binary of go to college/don’t go to college, really the best option we have to offer students of the twenty-first century?" Focusing on the US case, she points out that while a four-year degree has remained the primary way to signal a standard level of educational achievement, both what constitutes that achievement and what the world really needs from a young working person have shifted. As a result, a college degree is, in many cases, becoming a hollow signifier, reduced in an increasing number of cases to parsing of semantics on a CV by machine, a kind of expensive SEO for people:

Companies seeking “rock stars,” “unicorns,” and “purple squirrels” have become commonplace. The problem is, most entry- and mid-level positions do not call for a unique set of abilities, but HR departments thrive on creating endless, bullet-pointed lists of required skills and experience, with a college degree often topping the agenda.

More critically, however, continued focus on this signifier means educators, employers, and governments are failing to provide meaningful options for education that align with the need for a range of applied knowledge and skills, different interests and life paths, creating a dangerous delta between what people can or could do and how they are judged in the market. The risk we are running is that, as we can already see today, fewer and fewer people will be properly educated and trained for these "Jobs of the Future," while the both the stockpile of indebted graduates with vague degrees and a large sector of unemployed who hold valuable knowledge and applied skills continue to grow.  

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Headed to FutureEverything 15 by Scott Smith

I'm very excited to be making it to FutureEverything 15 for my third year in a row next week in Manchester, along with Susan Cox-Smith, to meet up with fellow attendees. The excitement is not simply because it marks the 20th year of this fantastic festival and conference—I'm also privileged to chair the first session of the event, What Now For...Memory and Identity, running from 10AM to 1PM on Thursday the 26th in the main event hall. This session will feature great talks from Jer Thorpe, Gemma Galdon-Clavell and Moritz Stefaner, as well as friends Matt Locke, Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie, including a panel with Jer, Gemma and Moritz. Don't miss it, and do stop and say hello if you're coming along. 

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent microconference happening within FE, Haunted Machines, put on by Natalie Kane and Tobias Revell, which will explore where technology and perceived magic bleed into each other.  

If you're in Manchester, we look forward to seeing you in the sessions, hallways, or nighttime events. If not, we'll catch you on Twitter.

** If you have questions for the morning panel, please let me know via Twitter.

Talking to CBC Spark About Emotion and Technology by Scott Smith

British Deputy PM Nick Clegg looking algorithmically sad. Image: Dan Williams.

British Deputy PM Nick Clegg looking algorithmically sad. Image: Dan Williams.

Last week's edition of Spark, the technology and culture radio show and podcast of Canadian broadcaster CBC, featured a segment on the "Internet of Emotions," where I was a guest. Spurred by my Thingscon talk in Amsterdam last November, in my chat with host Nora Young (play below), I talked about what I find interesting about the use of personal technology to monitor and "interpret" our emotional state, the feasibility and desirability of doing so. We discussed the role of ethics, the slipperiness of "feelings" in a digital construct, and under what conditions monitoring emotions through something like a smartphone or home listening device could be useful, or problematic.

The segment can be found here, and the specific clip is here for listening

This isn't an academic discussion. Businesses are chafing to apply sentiment-reading technology as a means of "knowing" their customers more intimately—computational empathy, if you will. Hospitals and insurers are curious not only about your emotional state during treatment, but even if you've sounded stressed just trying to get an appointment to see a doctor. Your bank might want to check how you feel while applying for a credit card, or a soda company send you a treat to "cheer you up". Backing what sounds like futuristic technology into the current arms race around data analytics, already happening, leads us into "emotional credit score" territory quite quickly, for example. Or Amazon offering you product "purchased by people who feel like you do now". 

We're only scratching the surface of this topic, and I plan to stay with it. Your views and feedback, as always, are welcome. Tell us how you feel.