In the future, what will it mean to be "smart"?

 Photo by  Alex Knight  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

In our current industrial model of school, being smart means knowing the most stuff and making the fewest mistakes.

Schools rank order students according to their GPA, and colleges sort them according to those same GPAs as well as scores on the SAT, ACT, and various AP exams.  These assessments measure how much you know and how few mistakes you make regarding the stuff that these the manufacturers of these assessments think you're supposed to know.

But what will "being smart" mean after artificial intelligence becomes so pervasive that it automates service and professional jobs at a rate "more than 10 times as large as the number of manufacturing jobs automated to date"? As the title of Ed Hess' new Harvard Business Review article puts it, "In the AI age, 'being smart' will mean something completely different."

In Hess' view, knowing stuff is what General Stanley McChrystal has called a "declining stock." As the chart below reveals, as far back as 1970 it has been increasingly less valuable compared to emotional intelligence and creative thinking.

Labor skills 1960 - 2009 World Economic Forum.png

Yet, as Hess puts it, "The challenge for many of us is that we do not excel at those skills because of our natural cognitive and emotional proclivities: We are confirmation-seeking thinkers and ego-affirmation-seeking defensive reasoners."

One way to hedge against the institutionalized privilege for "knowing stuff" is to teach students to apply mental models to what they think they know--e.g., seeking discomfirming evidence.

How much is your school encouraging students to invest in "rising stocks" like emotional intelligence and creative thinking? In an age of exponentially improving artificial intelligence, the things that got us here won't get us there...


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