How to robot-proof your children’s careers

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Pity school careers advisers. If economists are to be believed, vast numbers of jobs will have evaporated by the time today’s pupils reach the labour market. Oxford university’s Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne say almost half of the jobs in the US are at high risk from computerisation in the next two decades, together with two-thirds of those in India and three-quarters in China.

While workers worry about whether robots will take their jobs, teachers are wondering how to use education to insulate the next generation from such a fate. This has worked before. When the last wave of automation swept the developed world at the start of the 20th century, policymakers decided education was the answer. If machines were going to substitute for brawn, they reasoned, more people would need to use their brains.

The US invested heavily in education, with good results. Workers reaped the benefits through better jobs and higher wages. Economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson summed it up like this: “The industrial revolution started a race between technology and education — and, for most of the 20th century, humans won that race.”

But the next race will be against technology that replaces brains and brawn. Machine learning algorithms are already starting to supplant the likes of mergers and acquisition bankers and currency traders. Some experts argue we need to respond with another fundamental rethink of education.

“School education has tended to focus on developing the core cognitive competences — for example, reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, in a recent speech. “Smart machines have long since surpassed humans in their ability to do the first and third of these. And they are fast catching-up on the second. That begs the question of whether there are other skills where humans’ comparative advantage is greater.”

So what skills should we teach our children to robot-proof their careers?

 

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