Let’s talk about tech literacy

Tech 2025 attendees learning about chatbots and conversational interfaces by creating their own bot, together and debating how they would like to interact with the technology.

The end of a year is time to make predictions about future tech trends, and there is no lack of diversity in views…from

“Hardware will accelerate doubling Moore’s law (i.e. 2x in 2017)” to

Robots and AIs Will Take Our Jobs to

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Robots Stealing Your Jobs to

Continued interest in VR, AR, automous cars, drone delivery

Lots of views. Safe to say it is kind of confusing to both techies and non-techies.

Many predictions are focused on trends — what would follow precedents into the new year, what is riding the hype cycle, what is capturing the imagination of investors, businesses, and consumers, what is being hotly debated, what seems to have long “runway” because of technology potential and uncovered grounds (e.g., AI).

Rather than opining on trends here, I want to have dialogues around technology literacy that can extend into any technology topics and industry applications.

In order for trends to materialize, new products to be built and adopted, innovation to permeate throughout society, and ultimately economic growth to take place, technology literacy across every part of society and an organization is a fundamental building block.

Technology literacy should be important to everyone because technology is powering every part of our lives and that much of the future value creation will be in in tech-driven roles, companies, and industries.

Where we are headed

The U.S. Government has shown that much of the growth in jobs to 2020 will be in technology related jobs.

World Economic Forum has written about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Top 10 companies by market capitalization listed on New York Stock Exchange all have at least highlighted technology as focus area as part corporate strategy. In fact, many companies have come out and said that they are now technology companies. Many have begun walking the talk — from building world-class technology strategy, development, and innovation teams to acquiring emerging tech startups.

Exxon Mobil: “As society transitions to lower greenhouse gas emission energy solutions, technological advancements that change the way we produce and use energy will be instrumental in providing the global economy with the energy it needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Johnson & Johnson: “Investing in innovations has helped us increase our leadership positions and optimize our portfolio so that we can focus on the areas where we are making the most impact…We have created and opened new Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centers in London, Boston and Menlo Park, California.”

J P Morgan

General Electric: “We are repositioning GE to be the world’s best infrastructure and technology company”

Wells Fargo

Procter & Gamble: “Digital technology…is enabling P&G to expand creativity with an unprecedented delivery machine that is constantly evolving.”

Bank of America: “Bank of America Merrill Lynch is in the midst of sweeping digital transformation involving all aspects of its customer-facing operations.”

Chevron Corporation: “Technology plays an important role in helping us deliver affordable, reliable energy that fuels human progress and economic growth around the world.”

Alibaba Group: “…provide the fundamental technology infrastructure and marketing reach to help merchants, brands and other businesses that provide products, services and digital content to leverage the power of the Internet to engage with their users and customers.”

What is technology literacy? It is not just STEM

To start, I would like to share examples of how some of the university students I have met in 2016 are learning, thinking, and adopting technologies. I captured these short videos while judging LehighHacks at Lehigh University and at the annual student challenge at Carnegie Mellon University.

The students did not just talk about the technology or coding, they talked about problems and impact — -specifically, the value to have real time streaming data capturing energy consumption from buildings and the value of having blockchain to secure and process certain information. The students explained concepts clearly for techies and non-techies alike, in an applied way.

This is an example of technology literacy.

The misconception is that an individual has to be an engineer to be technology literate.

Sustainable and scalable technology-driven innovation and economic growth are dependent on all stakeholders across all demographics and age groups to be technology literate.

Technology literacy has many levels.

For individuals regardless of age or other demographics, developing technology literacy begins with reading about technology. Combine tech with topics that you are interested in such as food tech, fashion tech, biotech, education tech, smarter cities, … This is the beginning of developing level 1 technology literacy.

For schools, developing technology literacy begins with solid math and science courses and extra-curriculum activities that spur curiosity and self-learning aptitude on complex topics that require critical thinking. Invite guest speakers to talk about how technology is applied in different fields.

For businesses, developing technology literacy across the enterprise begins with providing accessibility and funding to online courses for employees at all levels and proactively and creatively establishing low-cost programs to allow non-technologists and technologists to job shadow and to collaborate to cultivate cross-learning. Platforms like SmartUp help.

For governments, developing technology literacy begins with funding and/or improving STEM programs in public schools at all levels and encouraging employees to attend tech meetups and workshops outside of work so they can bring insights back to the government.

I recently joined the board of Tech2025 to work with accelerate technology literacy in our communities. I will also be leading specific workshops so anyone with or without technology background can attend to have an interactive and applied dialogue around how technology will impact their lives and the world we all live in.

The first workshop I will lead will focus on AI and Ethics.

Joyce Shen is the global director of emerging technologies in the CTO office at Thomson Reuters, leading emerging tech research, startup ecosystem & partnerships, and the emerging tech venture fund. She is a regular speaker on emerging technologies, new product development, and corporate innovation. Outside of Thomson Reuters, Joyce teaches data science at UC Berkeley. And she serves on the board of various startups, the e-Residency program, Tech 2025, is a mentor at various accelerators, and an angel investor. She also founded Tech China Post and YouCollective.