AI and Our Kids: Raising Centaurs

I often get asked how AI will affect jobs. Everyone who drives for a living knows their job is going to vanish eventually. Coffee shop baristas are in similar jeopardy: just stop by the fully robotic CafeX kiosk in San Francisco to experience that yourself. Soon we might be ordering meals from burger-flipping bots, to be delivered by yet more robots.

How are we to raise our kids in a world like this? What skills should we be teaching them, to prepare them for a world in which the jobs we dream of them having might not exist when they enter the workforce? What jobs will exist for them?

We don’t know. We can’t know. Not long ago, at the turn of the millenium, we didn’t have smartphones. AI was considered a bust. Self-driving cars were thought to be impossible. It was a different world. That was just 17 years ago.

Even if we project the same amount of innovation that we’ve seen in the past 17 years into the future, we’ll underestimate the changes. Technological innovation is exponential, not linear. Personally, I try to take my naturally human-calibrated predictions and imagine them being ten times greater and more profound. It makes me feel like a lunatic, but that’s what happens when you try to imagine a radically different world from the one you grew up in.

It also means giving up on predicting what jobs our children will have (not that that’s stopped me). We can’t steer them to be doctors or lawyers or engineers — as we understand these jobs today — because we don’t know what those jobs will look like, or even if they will exist in a meaningful way in 2034 (I’ll spare you the “world without lawyers” joke here).

Raising Centaurs

But we can prepare children to be great collaborators, problem solvers and creative thinkers. We can teach them how to recognize their unique skills, and how to partner with others. Including, importantly, machines.

The chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who lost his title of the world’s best chess player to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997, came to realize that the ultimate intelligence was neither machine nor technological. In 2010 he wrote, “What if instead of human versus machine, we played as partners?”

Earlier this year, PARC researcher Mark Stefik popularized the term “centaur” to describe these human-machine pairs. He, like Kasparov and other AI researchers, recognize that neither human nor machine intelligence is superior to the other, but that both in concert are stronger than either.

What does it mean to partner with a machine, not just use one as a tool? That’s what we need to help our kids discover. We’re going to need to teach kids adaptability. And no shortage of humility.

We must continue to teach kids to appreciate beauty, and show them the value of empathy. These are things machines will only ever be able to simulate, never experience.

The best way to make sure the lessons sink in is to teach by example, by working honestly with people who are different from us, and by showing that we value differences in perspective and skillsets. We can prepare our kids to work hand-in-hand (or perhaps mind-to-mind) with machines in the future by showing them how we work and play well with other people today.

Teamwork has always been an important job skill. As machines become smarter, it’s going to be even more critical.

For more, see my previous story, The 5 Levels of Meeting AI. The World Economic Forum also has a comprehensive list of skills for digital living, that we should be teaching our kids.