DNA Column : Education and skills in the times of Artificial Intelligence

I write for the dna on education, skills, and how the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics are going to wipe out entire job areas; and what skills do we need to combat this.


source: Here

One of the things that separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom, is the ability to make nuanced decisions, through a process of finding and selecting alternatives, and picking the ‘best’ one based on individual values and preferences. This is a process that has been refined through the entire span of our existence on this planet. Problem solving, decision making, reasoning and learning, are some of the crucial aspects of human intelligence. The more adept we are at these, the more we are considered as being intelligent.

Throughout our existence as a species, humanity has tried to make it’s life easier through inventions and innovations -from harnessing fire to exploring space. And, one question that has been at the core of all the innovations that we take for granted today is “How do we do this in an easier, less time-consuming manner. In other words, how do we increase productivity”.  While productivity deals with increased output per individual, it also means fewer human workers to produce the same output.  From the start of the industrial age, there have been questions asked about the use of machinery in improving productivity. The key question was, what happens to jobs? And, the simple answer to that is, jobs as we know them will go. But, there will be new jobs in new areas.  The trillion-dollar question is, will we have the education and skills to adequately deliver in these new jobs.

Currently, we see increasing calls for restrictions on immigration in industrial countries, to stem local job losses. The fact remains that even zero immigration may not increase the total number of jobs. Most of these jobs have gone to robots with the ability to learn rapidly, adapt to change, and work in extremely hostile conditions.  Rapid Machine Learning, sometimes also known as Artificial Intelligence, is the order of the day.    And there is the other aspect of it, robots do not need salaries, or benefits; pensions or health care; they don’t form unions or go on strikes; they do not work at cross purposes, as humans often do. There are factories in China that have replaced 90% of their human workers with robots, and seen productivity jump 250%; there are factory lines in India that are completely automated; there are entire IT departments, in large organisations,  that have been replaced with extremely sophisticated decision making algorithms; computers are able to glean through data to produce journalistic reports; robots have taken over mining; and medical robots are becoming more pervasive.

The increasing use of AI in its various avatars, has had, and will continue to have a massive impact on jobs, across sectors. For India, this poses a special challenge. 38% of India is under the age of 19, getting into the job market. Do they have the skills to cope with a world where AI is going to take over most of the jobs that exist? Do we know what those skills are?

Across the world, the job threats posed by AI, and robotics have been taken seriously. Leading economists from both the left and the right have begun talking about the prospect of a universal basic income, the amount paid to each adult as income. Bill Gates has spoken about the need for robot tax, that will not only slow down the rate of jobs disappearing, but also pay for jobs and training in new areas – caring for children, caring for senior citizens, are two examples that he states. While these may somewhat slowdown the march of AI and robotics, it is not going to stand in the way of repetitive functions being automated. While Amazon has rolled out self-service stores, there is a Silicon Valley robot that has learned to make burgers.   Even predictive jobs, those that look at past data and predict future outcomes, will be taken over by the machines, sooner rather than later. Therefore, the question is, what kind of jobs will exist in the future. Governments across the world have begun setting up cross disciplinary committees to understand the impact on their economies, to be able to prepare for this future. In India, this is the need of the hour, the focus on skills, training and retraining, that will create a flexible workforce that is mostly in demand.

While AI, today can perform increasingly complex tasks, one aspect of humanity eludes it. Boundless curiosity. The evolution of human civilisation has been about questioning commonly held beliefs of that era. It is asking how can things be better. And this arises out of observing the world, and how things work. unless you know how things work, and how people interact with them, you are not going to be able to make things better. So two sets of abilities and skills that educators have to focus on will be getting students to ask “Why is this so”, and “How can this be made better”. Every aspect of education has to get geared so that students learn to not only question, but find a systematic solution to the question.  For the Indian education system, that has for long learned by rote, it has to be a paradigm shift in terms of not only the methodology of teaching, but also the way outcomes are evaluated. Perfect reproduction of the text book in an answer paper, will no longer be sufficient; being able to think out of the box, will be the key. Teaching students to think without boundaries, needs to be the way forward – because the moment they think within the box, a robot will replace them.


Loneliness of a Social Media Existence

For many people social media is a bubble where they become another entity – popular, liked, part of a larger community, considered a leader, considered important. And, it is not surprising that as the world becomes more complex, as each of us gets involved in our own jam packed lives, it is easier to connect with other human beings on the go, than face to face. Let us face it, it is easier to put a like on a post that says “lost my job, broke my leg, living on the streets” than to actually have a conversation with the person and figure out what is wrong and how you can help.  For many, the idea of ‘getting involved’ in other people’s messes is just not cool.


SO, while we are on the go, putting likes on posts; hearts on photographs; argue passionately about the state of the nation with friends and foes; and get involved in virtual activism for causes we believe in – and consider ourselves completely connected with the world at large, and the life of our friends, the truth is diametrically opposite.We have managed to isolate ourselves into a bubble of loneliness. For ultimately social networks are more networks than social, and human beings need other human beings more than they need likes.

A recent study shows that anyone using social media for more than two hours a day, faced the prospect of social isolation and loneliness. surprise, surprise. You talk to the phone screen the entire day, and then you figure nobody loves  you. They would love you if they knew you existed, but if you keep the black mirror between you an the universe, then you almost become part of the invisible people. People don’t notice other people who are peering into the mobile all the time; anymore than people peering into the mobile notice others.


Source : here 


Why do people feel isolated and lonely ? Well, the researchers have some theories.

First, you have less time for real-world interactions when you’re ogling your iPhone all day. Second, some aspects of social media can make people feel excluded, like seeing all your friends post pictures from a party you didn’t know about. And third, few of us share the ugly, boring, stressful parts of our lives. All those edited, curated pictures of traveling and brunching can spark feelings of envy and a distorted belief that everyone is living their best lives — except for you.

Sigh. At the risk of sounding old and unsympathetic, my two bits of advice.

  •  Get a life – get a hobby, even if it is only to post instagram pics and FB shares. And, make sure it is a hobby that needs practise outside a computer screen.
  • meet and have conversations with  people in your life. Not whatsapp chats or messenger chats – but real face to face chats. And, leave your phone inside, or shut off, when having this chat
  • Get some real sunshine. Go for a walk
  • Have times in the day that are mobile free
  • Read – you will never feel isolated
  • Meditate – you will never feel lonely

Youtube : A billion hours a day, of video watched

… on one single platform.

The Youtube official blog, announced it today/yesterday (depending on your timezone).

“last year, we hit a big milestone on that journey: people around the world are now watching a billion hours of YouTube’s incredible content every single day!
Let’s put that in perspective. If you were to sit and watch a billion hours of YouTube, it would take you over 100,000 years. 100,000 years ago, our ancestors were crafting stone tools and migrating out of Africa while mammoths and mastodons roamed the Earth.”

That is a phenomenal amount of content consumed. you are looking at an average of 2.5 hours per user . Assuming 4 billion people on the net, all of them consuming everyday. We all know that the number of users is likely to be far lower. Given, that many of the videos’ are shorts (under 10 minutes), you are talking about a lot of viewing.

Last year, while researching how much content was being create on the interwebs, and the various kinds of content that was being created – for something i was working on _ i came across this.

Youtube Video Content


it is awesome, and awe inspiring. It also tells you the sheer amounts of potential information overload we all face, if we even consumed a fraction of it. And, yet we do.

It is the same case with the real world. Michael Bhaskar, in his book Curation: The power of selection in a world of excess points out

a study from UCLA’s Center on the Everyday Lives of Families. Their report, Life at Home in the 21st Century, found a state of ‘material saturation’ in the lives of the families they worked with. They had, on average, 139 toys, 438 books and magazines and 39 pairs of shoes each.3 Even the smallest home in the study had over 2,260 items in three rooms. They concluded that Americans are living amidst ‘extraordinary clutter’. Stuffocation even manifests itself physiologically – the more clutter people, especially women, had, the higher their stress levels. All that resource and productivity of the Boom and, after a certain point, all it does is stress us out.

I haven’t seen such a study in India, but i know it applies here too (for many of us). Yes, we do have a first world problem, we have too much. i notice it everytime i clean out the cupboard, the stuff inside intimidates me to such a level, i put it all back and run away. But, the fact remains, I know my life will be less cluttered if I got rid of 70% of all the things I own, and no longer use.

While the overload in the real world is high, it is nothing compared to the overload we face online. It is just very easy to while away hours at a go, on random content consumption. Whether it is “window shopping” on an e-commerce site, or checking out new videos on Youtube; be it catching up with friends on FB, or figuring who is burning what on twitter. I am not even adding activities like viewing structured entertainment on an Amazon Prime or a Nextflix; or even conventional linear TV. Just digital. And, India has not yet seriously begun adding to the content glut on line.

Right now, without India being fully unleashed digitally, there are 400 hours of new video every minute, close to 10,000 hours of new video every day. 3.6 million hours of video every year. And, that is only one platform. There is of course, something for everyone, if only they can find it 🙂

India.com beats Network 18


No. this is not a PR plug. It is just that extremely fulfilling sense of ‘goal met’ .

The teams i worked with for two and half long and hard years, pulled it off. We know all know how we worked, and how much we worked, to get here. Proud of the teams – and the leadership that managed to get to the target a year before schedule.

I couldn’t stop smiling yesterday, when the news came out. I may not be there anymore, but they are still my teams 🙂

3 Good Reads – Digital Content, Video, and Consumers

Three very good reads at the cusp of content and technology. I quite enjoyed reading them.

Don’t Try to Be a Publisher and a Platform at the Same Time – a beautifully insightful piece from HBR. it just cleared up a lot of little muddled bubbles in the head. Generally speaking, content people are in awe of technology and don’t think they know how to get around it; and technology people have the converse problem. Maybe the solution is collaboration, rather than being conjoint.

Jonathan Glick coined the ungainly word “platisher” to describe hybrids of digital media platforms and publishers. When a media company attempts to be both a destination for edited, themed content and a tool others can use to create content, it’s a platisher. ……

In the end, the dichotomy between publisher and platform is actually a difference in goals. The question is not: “Are you a platform or a publisher?” The question is: “Do you care more about scale, or about editorial voice?”

Editorial voice, is my response. But, for someone else it may be scale. having the two in the same ecosystem can be traumatic.

Here’s why the traditional TV network might become totally obsolete – and what could replace it :

It isn’t that we are consuming less video content, it is just that we are consuming it less in a linear fashion. Video is alive. Traditional TV is entering the phase that print encountered 20 years ago. If they are smart – and most are myopic about their today – it will be the same players who occupy the poll position a decade from now. But, it seems unlikely. Traditional media is so obsessed with today, that they lose sight of the fact that today gets over, and there is a tomorrow.

In a recent report on the future of media, Barclays analysts argued that as “aggregation” platforms become the primary driver of eyeballs – think Netflix, or even a “Netflix of Netflixs” – the idea of a channel doesn’t make much sense anymore.

This.cm wants to deliver the only links you’ll really read each evening : again a fascianting read, about how some publishers are going against conventional wisdom, to do something completely different. On the internet, mostly, less is more.

the evening email delivered to This.cm users who have registered and are “following” other users — whether favorite writers or publications — will highlight links to stories shared by the people/publications users follow. At the moment, these are the most recent things shared in a user’s network that day……Users will still receive five links picked by a This.cm editor, though they can opt to receive only the five handpicked links, five links from followers, or both.

content concept handwritten on blackboard
image courtesy – here