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Brittany Singh: How Can We Stay Smarter Than Machines?

Brittany Singh B Educated
October 07, 2014
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the sum of many great human minds to apprehend the environment and make sound decisions to achieve success. To exist, AI needs to encapsulate three things: hardware, software and the input/output mechanisms that work together to enable the machine to perform intelligently. In essence, AI equips machines for divergent thinking, to inspire a wider scope of thinking and creativity.

Like these “smart” machines, humans are equipped with brains (hardware), an environment (software) and body parts and senses (input and output mechanisms) that prepare us to be similarly smart.

Yet, somehow, sometimes our environment and circumstances overwhelm our function, creativity and problem-solving abilities and — boom! — machines outlast and outsmart us.

In this new age of technology, there has been a shift towards dependence on machines and, in some settings, we have relinquished our authority as the “superior” brain.

How, then, do we educate our children to take back both their intelligence and their place in the 21st-century economy? As machines get smarter, how can our education get smarter too?

The idea of universal education was born during the Industrial Revolution, which created an intellectual culture that said, “to be successful, one must be educated and qualified.” Thinking outside of the box was hardly encouraged.

Thank goodness globalization and digitization have rendered this approach less relevant. Entrepreneurship and innovation require more than being booksmart. As we move into the creative age, smart education and learning must be powered by 21stCentury Approaches to Learning.

In an innovative learning environment, these approaches embody four key elements: creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration. These are the tools that are essential to prepare students for the future economy.

Creativity involves the generation of new things and ideas, or the transformation of existing ideas that are essential for economic, cultural and individual innovation. It is, therefore, vital that, as the world evolves, we nurture the desire to stay one step ahead with our ideas.

One could argue that we are all born with an innate desire to be creative. However, as we grow older, our creative tendencies slacken as we move along the education conveyor belt and head towards a predestined career.

Education can become smarter by engaging students with a format that uses a wide range of idea creation techniques such as brainstorming, mindmapping and project-based assignments. This provides students with a desire to seek out knowledge and create new ideas to complete tasks.

Next, critical thinking and problem-solving. Can’t we all solve problems? Sure we can, but to compete with smart machines, we must be equipped with the skills to go a step beyond what already exists and solve problems that have yet to emerge.

To accomplish this, students and educators alike must be engaged in various types of reasoning (such as inductive and deductive) in the classroom. Students must be given the opportunity to make judgments and decisions, analyze evidence and make arguments while reflecting critically on the learning experiences they are engaged in.

Solving problems goes beyond familiarity and into complex systems of every aspect of life.

The nature of communication and collaboration may have changed with the digital age, but its significance has remained the same. Since technology can serve to cripple the human mind, it is important that students are taught the necessary ways to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information to function in the knowledge economy through information technology, verbal communication and human collaboration.

In schools, universities and other education environments, students must be encouraged to articulate their thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and non-verbal communication in a variety of formats that inspire others to listen and decipher meaning with globalization and global business in mind.

As such, students should be equipped with the ability to work effectively and respectfully with different teams and adopt skills of flexibility and willingness to compromise in order to accomplish specific goals. This can be achieved by engaging learners through group assignments that take into consideration team members roles and expectations.

For any of these four key elements to be successful, however, these skills must inspire a rethinking of what teachers, students and schools do, and how they do it. This means that our brains — the hardware — and our senses and bodies — the inputs and outputs – must come to terms with this new order and make machines work for them, not the other way around.

This piece first appeared in the World Economic Forum blog.

Brittany Singh is founder of B.Educated and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Kingston Hub