The End of Knowledge

April 9, 2019 by Robin Poppe

Acquiring knowledge as we have practiced it for centuries through scholastic, academic, vocational education and training, is expected to have a short life expectancy. The system that has worked effectively for such a long time, has generated sustained progress, and produced geniuses in all fields of research and knowledge, seems to be reaching the end of its journey. Imparting knowledge and skills, the bread and butter of so many training institutions worldwide, does not have a very bright and long future ahead.

The reason is that robots and artificial intelligence address an increasing number of skills and knowledge related needs, without the human intermediary. Initially, machines were only effective in dealing with repetitive and sequential tasks. But thanks to the accumulation of a gigantic amount of data, better performing algorithms and systems that are able to understand the intricacies of linguistic semantics, machines reached the stage where they can learn. The quality of their responses to our needs for knowledge and skills is ever increasing. If we analyse the evolution of the quality of automated translation during the last ten years, we realize how significant the improvement has been.

 

When robots and A.I. start learning, they will be able to adapt to new situations and soon will they be able to simulate emotions. Two identical robots, one of which had been exposed to strong aggressive stimuli, developed responses that were different (because they have had different ‘experiences’). If institutional training and learning focused on the transfer of knowledge will no longer be needed because A.I. will identify needs and provide relevant knowledge solutions, what will then be the future of training institutions and what will they be focusing on? In spite of the rapid technological evolution, acquiring some of the more complex human abilities will remain a challenge for machines, probably for a very long time. The role of training and learning institutions will be to impart these abilities, clustered under four headings.

  • Creativity and creative processes

Imagination, dreams and aspirations are stronger than the learning which is needed to face the concreteness of daily life. That is why the human kind has always balanced these rather simple and concrete needs with inspirational forms of art. Music, visual arts, literature and entrepreneurship, are all expressions of the creative areas of the human brain. Creative processes often seem to be an anticipation of the future. They ask new questions or offer new solutions, and present them in an unconventional mode.

  • Strategic and critical thinking

Machines might well have the capacity to provide speedy and accurate answers, but will they be able to ask the novel questions mentioned earlier? Challenging given situations or analyses, making judgements during negotiations or deciding on medium and longterm policies and investments, are areas where human qualities will best express themselves. Questioning the status quo and broadening the number of options for action can be expressed as critical and strategic thinking

  • Team building and team work

Multidisciplinary teams are best equipped to identify novel intersections between scientific, social, economic and artistic disciplines. The answer to new questions can often be found in these intersections which are the result or bridging, blending or crashing components of different disciplines or technologies. As an example, domotics are the combination of automation and architecture. Rather than analyzing best practices and failures of past experiences in depth, let teams work and focus on innovative next practices.

  • Emotions and empathy

Even if elementary emotions are entering the world of machines, more complex ones are typically human. Developing an inclusive attitude, caring for people in need, making others feel good, educating through giving affection are positive responses to human needs. They go beyond the need to acquire new knowledge or skills and are an indispensable dimension of human existence. Learning is not only receiving the right answer, it is also receiving it in the right way.

Training institutions that will be leaders in their field will pioneer approaches that combine the four abilities above. They will be embracing the complexity of the human kind, looking far and wide, combining unrelated disciplines creatively, preparing for continuous change, and giving responses from and to the brain and the heart.