There has been a lot of discussion recently about the falling value (and rising price) of a university diploma, and this is part of the reason for it. Much of a contemporary university education is designed to train dot-connectors, to fill students’ heads with established formulas and the received wisdom, but not to teach the kind of creative problem-solving that can only be learned, in my experience, by going beyond the canned knowledge peddled in the classroom and dealing with actual, real-world challenges.
More deeply, what cannot be automated is the conceptual thinking that allows us, not just to fit a new fact into an established mold, but to understand facts that do not fit the established mold. This implies a real challenge to workers in the next century.
There has been a lot of anxiety recently about the supposed “disappearance” of the middle class. Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Decades ago-think Detroit in the 1950s-people still had the illusion that they could earn a prosperous middle-class living just by turning bolts on an assembly line. Now the machines turn the bolts, and those workers’ grandkids are about to discover that they won’t be able to earn a middle-class living any more just by shuffling papers and connecting the dots in pre-established formulas.