In a previous post, I discussed a theory of human history based on how majorities of people engage in particular forms of labor at different times, in a succession from hunter-gatherer societies, to agricultural, industrial, and information societies. This view proposes that each 'wave' of activity produces a surplus that sets up the next 'wave.' Once we have collectively made the satisfaction of some human need efficient enough, we go on to the next most important need.
Recently, a large amount of economic activity has been targeted at producing a surplus of useful knowledge, information, and data. Tools such as automatic computing hardware, databases, communication networks, search engines, crowd-sourcing, social networks, and advances in artificial intelligence have been pushing into the space of making useful knowledge content available to individuals and organizations. If this useful knowledge becomes a surplus (and it might already be a surplus), what should we work on next?
There is an interesting dilemma to consider. Prehistory for modern humans lasted about 200,000 years, agricultural civilization a few thousand years, industrial civilization hundreds of years, and information civilization only decades. This acceleration is combined with greater life expectancy for most humans today. We will likely live through the next several revolutions in human labor. It would pay to have a road map.
I propose that a gathering surplus of useful knowledge indicates that development of human and machine aptitude will be the next 'big thing.' What will be most economically precious in the next ten years will be the ability of humans and machines to make sense of all of that knowledge, and to know how to use it most effectively to achieve desired outcomes. This boils down to the development of cognitive skills, or in popular speak, 'becoming smarter.'
How can we make this happen? And how can we help people understand and cope with what might otherwise be a difficult transition?
The author's affiliation with The MITRE Corporation is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply MITRE's concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions, or viewpoints expressed by the author.
- Read a recent New York Times article about the replacement of human employees with machines