PALO ALTO – Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say … not quite. I’d say income anxiety and the stress over what it now takes to secure and hold a good job.
I believe the accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and, now, lifelong learning. More people can’t keep up, and clearly some have reached for leaders who promise to stop the wind.
Let me elaborate through a few conversations, starting with Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, who recently remarked to me: “I believe my grandchildren will not drive.”
Since he has teenage daughters, that means self-driving vehicles should be fully deployed in 25 years, at which time you won’t “steer” your car but will program it on a smartphone or watch or glasses. Sounds like fun – unless you’re one of the millions who drive a truck or cab for a living.
But don’t think you’re safe as an accountant, either.
Mark Bohr, Intel’s senior fellow for technology, explained to me that Intel’s main workhorse microprocessor today is the 14-nanometer chip it introduced in 2014. It packs 37.5 million transistors per square millimeter. By the end of 2017, thanks to Moore’s Law, Intel will begin producing a 10-nanometer chip that will pack “100 million transistors per square millimeter – more than double the previous density with less heat and power usage,” said Bohr.
If you think machines are smart today … wait a year. It’s this move from 14-nm to 10-nm chips that will help enable automakers to shrink the brain of a self-driving car – a brain that has to take in sensor data from 360 degrees and instantly process whether it’s a dog, a human, a biker or another car – from something that fills a whole trunk to a small box under the front seat, so these cars can scale.
When you get that much processing power, putting out that much data exhaust with ever-improving software, you create a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history. We can see trends we never saw, predict when engine parts will break and replace them before they do, with great savings, and we can optimize everything – from the most energy-saving flight path for an airplane to the ideal drilling path for a natural gas well.
I recently visited the control room at Devon Energy, a large oil and gas producer, in Oklahoma City. It’s half a floor of computer screens displaying data coming out of every well Devon is drilling around the world.
At the bottom of each screen are two boxes that blew my mind. One box displays how much money was budgeted to drill that particular well per foot, and the other box displays – in real time – how much the drilling of that well is actually costing, as it bores through different rocks, and it’s updated every foot!
A typical well might involve sending pipe 2 miles down and then turning horizontally for 2 miles east or west – with such precision it can hit a seam of gas as small as 20 feet wide!
If you’re working on a Devon oil rig today, you’re holding a computer, not just an oily wrench. And if you’re getting a degree in auto mechanics at a community college today, it’s not to be a “grease monkey.” It’s to be a repairman for a computer with wheels.
The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.
And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.
That’s why education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan likes to say: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mindset will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”
Some are up for that, some not; and many want to but don’t know how, which is why the College Board has reshaped the PSAT and SAT exams to encourage lifelong learning.
“We analyzed 250,000 students from the high school graduating Class of 2017 who took the new PSAT and then the new SAT,” College Board President David Coleman told me. “Students who took advantage of their PSAT results to launch their own free personalized improvement practice through Khan Academy advanced dramatically: 20 hours of practice was associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT to the SAT – double the average gain among students who did not.
“Practice advances all students without respect to high school GPA, gender, race and ethnicity or parental education. And it’s free. Our aim is to transform the SAT into an invitation for students to own their future.”
So the tough news is that more will be on you. The good news is that systems – like Khan-College Board – are emerging everywhere to enable anyone to accelerate learning for the age of acceleration.
Step back from all of this and it’s clear that thriving countries today won’t elect a strongman. They'll elect leaders who inspire and equip their citizens to be strong people who can own their own futures.