“Wealth is created by science and technology” – Michio Kaku
Predictions are always risky, especially as Yogi Berra said, when they are about the future. Nonetheless, with the economy changing rapidly and jobs coming and going, it is important to understand what we should be teaching the workforce of tomorrow. Theoretical physicist, futurist, and author Michio Kaku opened ISTE 2016 with a series of caveats about predictions, especially predictions by physicists (see box below), and emphasized how important it is to evolve our education system from training workers for 1950 to preparing students for the creative challenges of today. Lend credibility to his views, Kaku said he drew from the wisdom of his weekly interviews with three of the world’s top scientists, including Nobel laureates.
During the historical waves of wealth generation, it has been science and technology that consistently generated wealth. The rapidly acquired wealth often goes into the stock market leading to a bubble followed by recession. This cycle has generally occurred about every 90 years. As a side note Kaku points out that lawyers and politicians do not create wealth, they transfer it in a zero-sum game.
The following are the waves of wealth generation. The first three are historical; the fourth is now on the horizon. Each has required a different type of education to thrive in.
- First wave – steam power
- Second wave – electricity and automobiles
- Third wave – high tech including lasers, computers
- Fourth wave – biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence
As Moore’s Law continues and computer power doubles every 18 months, by 2020 processors will cost a penny. These processors will be everywhere, but drop out of view. Our Internet glasses and contact lenses will present background briefs on everyone we pass and instantly provide translations from foreign languages. Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality are already helping doctors in the operating room and are providing training in dangerous professions. These technologies are working their way into the classroom as new teaching styles, and also to help students to become comfortable using them.
Income inequality is an important issue today, but it is more than the top 1% that is doing well. In fact, the top third has participated in the growing economy. The bottom two-thirds, though, has stagnated or fallen off. Kaku correlates this with college education.
The important point is that education must prepare students for the needs of the fourth wave. The “drudgery of memorization”, as Kaku puts it, is no longer necessary. Facts and static information will be available simply by blinking our contact lenses. Concepts and principles are important, as well as a thorough understanding of the emerging technologies. Middle man jobs are being phased out. Robo-lawyers will replace paralegals. Robo-doc will diagnose your ailments. Stock brokers will no longer be needed for stock trading. Future employment will be based on intellectual capital, imagination, and creativity.
It is also important that students have mentors. The dropout rate of e-courses is as high as 90%, because the students are not mentored. Kaku encourages teachers and parents not only to be mentors, but also role models for their students. Although kids start out naturally inquisitive and interested in science, telescopes, and microscopes, as they reach age 17 they come under the influence of peer pressure and Hollywood’s pyramid with cheerleaders and jocks at the top. That pyramid, of course, flips after graduation.
Despite the emergence of robo-docs for routine diagnoses, medicine will be a major source of employment. Smart toilets will analyze human waste and provide early diagnoses of medical problems by measuring enzymes, proteins, and gene fragments. Liquid biopsies will diagnose breast cancer so early, the patient will have ten years to do something about it. The word tumor will disappear.
A brain pace-maker will assist memory-impaired Alzheimer’s patients by recording signals in the hippocampus and uploading them as required (see image). Mini-MRIs will function similarly to the Star Trek Tricoder. Smart pills with cameras will replace the need for a colonoscopy. Replacement organs will be grown in the lab from stem cells, replacing the long demand backlog for transplant organs.
To summarize Michio Kakus’s advice to teachers, be a mentor and a role model, drive imagination and creativity, and prepare students for the jobs of the future, not the past.
The Humor of Michio Kaku
Way back, 200 years ago during the French revolution three men were about to be beheaded: a priest, a lawyer, and a physicist. The priest was asked if he had any last words.
“By the power of the Almighty, the Lord shall set me free!” he yelled, after which his head was placed in the guillotine. The blade was raised, reached the top and rapidly descended. But just before it reached his neck, it stopped. The crowd screamed, “It’s a miracle. Let the priest live!”
The priest was let go, and the lawyer, next in line, was asked if he had any last words.
“I am not afraid. Justice will set me free!” the lawyer told the crowd.
Again the blade was slowly raised, reached the top, and rapidly descended. But as with the priest, the blade stopped short on the way down and the lawyer was unharmed.
“Justice demands that we free the lawyer!” chanted the crowd.
It was now the physicist’s turn and like the others he was asked if he had any last words.
“Why yes,” said the physicist. “Looking up at the mechanism, I can see that the rope is simply getting stuck on that pulley.”
Workmen were dispatched to repair the pulley mechanism and it became apparent that physicists need to learn when to keep their mouths shut.
Einstein and His Chauffeur
Toward the end of his career, Einstein was getting tired of delivering lectures and answering the same questions every time he gave a talk. His chauffeur picked up on that and having heard Einstein’s lectures often enough, volunteered that they could switch places during the next appearance. So the chauffeur donned a wig and made himself look like Einstein, Einstein pulled on the chauffeur’s cap and they went off to a lecture.
Everything about the talk went well until an unexpected and pompous question came from the audience. Einstein was worried that his chauffeur would be unable to answer it.
“Sir,” said Einstein’s driver, “that question is so simple, I’ll let my chauffeur answer it.