STEM, AI and the future

One thing is very clear, the future is going all STEM…

According to various articles, it appears we are heading for a future full of robots and technology that will drastically increase the degree of automation as part of the economic and manufacturing process. I think this is largely inevitable as there are a few factors pushing this juggernaut along:

  • The equivalent cost of a given unit of computing power keeps reducing year on year (a form of Moore’s Law);
  • Therefore the cost of producing more complex technology keeps dropping (as you can design/make more for less);
  • Therefore the cost of making more complex products keep dropping (hence why we now have mobile phones we the same power as supercomputers 20 years ago)

Now, if you consider a product to be a ‘robot’ – then you can clearly see this happening. It wasn’t that long ago that a basic hobby or educational robot platform would cost many $100 if not $1000’s to put together and be able to do something useful – now that has dropped to maybe $300 tops to get started. Imagine the manufacturing market pressures that have caused this? Also remember that such pressure is being felt across the whole segment – robots as a whole is becoming a lot cheaper to enact.

So what does this mean for the employment market place? First off, there will be jobs for people in the future, just not what they used to be. I don’t foresee a future of mass unemployment and hardship, rather the increase in automation will ‘free’ people to focus on adding their value further along the chain. Think of it like this:

  • Increased automation increases general economic activity, more is being done for less human ‘effort’;
  • The increased size of the economy will require more people within it to operate and maintain it;
  • Therefore new classes of jobs will appear in the new economic market.

Yes, automation will get rid of certain classes of job, but others will be created in their place.

STEM Education

I’m firmly of the belief that the future belongs to the technologists – those who are able to utilize technology its fullest. This is where the focus on STEM is critical to our long term success (and it has probably never been this critical before).

STEM is a focus on Science, Technology, English and Maths. In my mind everybody coming out of school should not only be comfortable with technology they should be able to ‘create’ with technology – no longer is it good enough to be a simple passive consumer of technology – we must be able to utilize it directly to our benefit. This will require an ‘internal’ basic understanding of technology for all, everybody coming out of school should understand how a computer works, they not be good at programming one, but they will all have the basics. Combine this Science knowledge and Maths & English skills and you have a platform on which someone can pretty much do anything involving technology.

Educational Robotics

One area I think all schools should be getting involved with is the educational use of robotics. Robots cut across all the STEM areas as follows:

  • Science – material sciences, physics and even chemistry (batteries);
  • Technology – electronics, modularisation, R&D & projects
  • English – reading and writing documentation, team work, reports, etc
  • Maths – algorithms, analysis and planning & design.

For as little as $150 a school can buy a robot and start experimenting. For around $250 they also buy a more fully featured robot and really experiment. So the entry point into this is quite low. To me a primary and secondary school should buy robots that operate around Lego MindStorms, but high schools should be using dedicated robotic platforms, as these will be more indicative real robots; plus having such skills will allow them to take part in competitions like the FIRST Tech Challenge where schools compete head to head building robots to overcome challenges.