Chapter 3. Career Options - Great Ways to Be a Foresight Leader

3. Education


Education (public and private) contributes around 7% to US GDP and accounts for about 9% of jobs, making it the third largest of the four main employment sectors. Education spending has grown faster than GDP (PDF) in most OECD countries since 2000. If we expect that both technical productivity and our individual democratic power (e.g., the intelligence of our digital twins) will each continue to accelerate in industrial democracies, it is then an easy prediction that the Big Three human capital industries of Health Care, Education, and Nonprofits will all make up increasingly large shares of most nation’s budgets in coming decades. The faster, smarter and more productive our machines, the more social wealth and tax base they create. In turn, in reasonably democratic countries, the more spending we’ll see in education and other sectors central to human potential.

At the same time, automation and other forms of accelerating change will likely continue to displace more of us more quickly from our jobs, regardless of educational quality. But the social effects of technological unemployment, as that outcome is now called, is a separate issue. Whether such unemployment is beneficial or harmful depends on the nature of the social safety nets, including just-in-time and adult education, and the nature of entrepreneurial opportunities, including fairness of business laws and level of allowed industry economic concentration, in each country where it occurs.

Compulsory public education has changed surprisingly little since its invention in Prussia at the end of the 18th century. Our slowly changing national and state curricula, in a world of ever-improving scientific knowledge, currently help students to think only in very basic ways about the global future, and still do very little to teach them financial foresight or to make and critically test plans for their personal futures. US K-12 schools presently have only a handful of extracurricular foresight education efforts like Future Problem Solving Program and Odyssey of the Mind, and at the university level, both topical and methods-based courses in foresight are rare. Foresight degree programs are rarer still. With a few exceptions (Foresight Taiwan, Malaysian Foresight Institute) most countries have no educational leadership seeking to assess or add foresight to their curricula, at any level. It is my opinion that the best foresight education is mostly bottom-up, eliciting student and community ideas for the future, and only weakly top-down, imparting current insights from practitioners. Futurist Peter Bishop’s Teach the Future initiative is a good example in this regard. Such approaches cultivate proactive, creative, curious, anticipatory, visionary and planning-oriented citizens.

As the world economy accelerates, and the value of knowledge work and computer work continues to grow, educational systems should feel even greater stresses to remain relevant to the needs of employers and students. Education influences several of the nine variables in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Index. It is no coincidence the top four countries in the index, Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, and Germany, all have significantly better public education systems than the US, which was #17 in 2012, by Pearson’s account. While the US has never been #1 globally in education, if we wish to maintain our technological, innovation, and entrepreneurship edge, we’ll have to reverse our eroding global rank.

Brynjolfsson & McAfee (2014)

Brynjolfsson &
McAfee (2014)

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2008) chart an average of 7-10 job changes over the lifetime of modern workers, roughly once every four years. How many of these are career changes, and how many are involuntary, unfortunately is not yet tracked. But it seems very likely that the number of involuntary changes due to technological unemployment is more than (perhaps twice?) that in our grandparents’ era. It also seems likely that forced job and career changes, driven both by accelerating communications technologies (outsourcing, globalization) and computing technologies (software, automation, robotics) are on the rise. For more on technological unemployment, and the basic income guarantee solution being debated even now in a few wealthy countries like Switzerland, see Brynjolfsson and McAffee’s excellent The Second Machine Age (2014).

Meanwhile, US teachers’ unions such as NEA, UFT, and CTA have grown in their strength and activism since the 1960s. Modern teachers in most OECD countries make a decent wage, but as a percentage of per capita GDP, a 2008 McKinsey study found that US teacher pay is roughly half of that in Germany and South Korea, and also behind seven other countries, including the UK and Australia. Qualified teacher applicant ratios are low (three to one in the US, versus ten to one in countries like Finland), and there is far too much mandated teacher busywork and student testing, and far too little student-driven learning and experimentation. Top college graduates in the US do not seek to teach, and our unions often restrict teacher initiative and oppose any meaningful school change. See the thoughtful Special Interest (2011) for more on that unfortunate dynamic. We certainly need unions, but we also need union competition and reform. It is rare to find an industry where workers can choose which union they may wish to join, or find it easy to form their own in competition with existing unions.

Fortunately, several countries have been able to reform their public education systems over several decades. On the annual TIMMS rankings, Finland has climbed from the lower middle to the top five of the 34 OECD countries in fourth and eighth grade math and science rankings, and is consistently in the top six in reading and problem solving on PISA rankings. It has done this by greatly increasing teaching job desirability and teacher hiring selectivity, paying good wages, providing extensive teacher training (a minimum of a masters and one year of apprenticeship before teaching), greatly reducing state curriculum requirements and restrictions on teacher freedom, and investing in school resources for individualized student learning and free expression (top-flight labs, shop, crafts, sports, clubs, libraries, and community opportunities). By rewarding students with up to a third of their school time for free exploration of their own unique interests and activities, in a Montessori-like model, as long as they are meeting expectations academically, students are deeply incentivized by to achieve superior performance on the required curriculum. See Finnish Lessons (2011), and the excellent film The Finland Phenomenon (2011) (YouTube), for great accounts. Educational reforms aren’t easy, but democracies can accomplish them with good foresight leadership.

The Finland Phenomenon (2011), An Educational Reform Prophecy

The Finland Phenomenon (2011),
An Educational Reform Prophecy

Private education has seen more change, with uneven results. Since the early 1990s charter schools have emerged as an alternative to private schools, and some perform better than public schools, particularly in disadvantaged environments. However, many don’t, and privatization in itself seems to offer no clear advantage. For more on that story, Diane Ravitch, a Dept. of Education leader during the first wave of US K-12 privatization under President George HW Bush, has described the uneven results of charter efforts, in Reign of Error (2013). At the tertiary level, the University of Phoenix disrupted university education in the 1980s with rapid growth in a private for-profit and more just-in-time higher education model focused on one class per month, with evening schedules ideal for working adults. But in recent years escalating tuition costs, financial aid abuses, and lower-cost online startups has halved the market capitalizations of many of these large for-profit education firms (U. of Phoenix, DeVry, ITT Tech), and they are seeing increasing competition from online startups.

E-learning, adaptive (computer-based) learning, and the educational technology sector are today seen as the disruptive edge of education. Free web-based language learning platforms like Duolingo and Memrise are challenging today’s leading computer-assisted language learning packages (Rosetta Stone, costing $500 for a full desktop package or three years of online access). Massive open online course and tutorial companies (Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy), computer adaptive education firms (Area9, Knewton, KnowRe, McGraw-Hill’s LearnSmart), neuroscience-based learning firms (Lumosity, Scientific Learning), open-source educational CMS platforms (Moodle, Sakai), wikis, and serious (educational) games (Cashflow, Democracy, Government in Action, SimCity) are all incrementally lowering the cost and barriers to entry to education, and increasing its targeted, personalized, just-in-time benefits.

Yet all of this new innovation and investment seems likely to be the calm before the storm. Once speech recognition, natural language understanding, machine learning, and wearable computing get a little bit better, toward the end of this decade and into the next, futurist Thomas Frey’s vision of 24/7 teacherless education will emerge. Imagine a world where children everywhere can learn as fast as their curiosity drives them, throughout their waking hours, wherever they are, just by talking to their wristphones, tablets, and laptops. For related edtech visions, you might enjoy Alan Kay’s 1972 Dynabook proposal, and the sci-fi tale The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, Neal Stephenson (1995).

US immigration policies and public educational systems are most likely to improve only slowly and marginally in the next few decades. But at the same time, we can foresee as many as a billion more children learning English from birth, ten years after they receive an always-on wearable smartphone with a conversational interface. I call that vision Global English, and visit the link provided if you’d like more details. These individuals will have a common global culture and be able to work anywhere, as virtual immigrants, wherever cheap telecommunications links exist. That will be a far more entrepreneurial, specialized, collaborative, and economically productive world than we live in today.

Showing 2 comments
  • Alex Teselkin

    The link between traditional education and innovation/internship is at best unproven. After all, it is in the UK, not in Prussia, with its first public system, that the Industrial Revolution began. Perhaps it could not have been otherwise: some of the most influential entrepreneurs all turned out to be drop-outs. They were later given various ‘honorary’ degrees so that the change-resistant educational system may claim a credit for what it did not contribute towards (and, perhaps, for what was achieved *in spite* of it).

  • Alex Teselkin

    Any thoughts on how the basic income scheme may backfire? If everyone gets an extra $20,000 a year, inflation will erase the value of extra money.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 2. Personal Foresight – Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 2: Personal Foresight

Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 4. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 4: Models

Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 7. Acceleration – Guiding Our Extraordinary Future

Chapter 7: Acceleration

Guiding Our Extraordinary Future (In Process)

II. Global Progress: 5 Goals, 10 Values, Many Trends

Innovation: Our Abundant Future
Intelligence: Our Augmented Future
Interdependence: Our Civil Future
Immunity: Our Protected Future
Sustainability: Our Rebalanced Future

III. Universal Accelerating Change

Great Race to Inner Space: Our Surprising Future
Entropy&Information: We’re Running Down & Up
The Puzzle of Meaning: We Have No Einstein Yet
Trees, Funnels & Landscapes: Intro to Evo Devo
Big Picture Change: Five Scales of Accelerating ED
Transcension Hypothesis: Where Acceleratn Ends?
IDABDAK: Social Response to Accel & Developmnt
We’re On a Runaway Train: Being Accelaware

IV. Evo Devo and Exponential Foresight

Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership
Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development
Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy

V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism

Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society
Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe
A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment


Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

Chapter 8: Your Digital Self

The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)

I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self

Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains

1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education
2. Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice
3. Political Agents :  Activism & Represent.
4. Economic Agents:  Retail, Finance, Entrep
5. Builder Agents :  Work, Innov. & Science
6. Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability
7. Health Agents :  Health, Wellness, Death
8. Security Agents :  Def., Crime, Corrections

III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment

Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income
Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?

Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Chapter 10: Startup Ideas

Great Product and Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs (In Process)

I. 4U’s Idea Hub: Building Better Futures

Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters
Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design
Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined
Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior
Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation
Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training
Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders
Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education
Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping
Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars
Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback
Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control
Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth
Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening
High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again
Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space
Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns
Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things
Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment
Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes
Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production
Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution
Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment
Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech
Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating
Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating
Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders
Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World
Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals
Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces
Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today
Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death
Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services
Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel
Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management
Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security
Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence
View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community

Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Chapter 11: Evo Devo Foresight

Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Appendix 1. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice