“We don’t need more human teachers in education. We need robots” – Opinion article in TU Delta magazine 17-05-2017, the weekly magazine of Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)

Marcel Bullinga: "Our brain needs robotic help." (Photo: Boy Hazes)

Futurologist Marcel Bullinga responds to the plea of ​​TU Delft board member Anka Mulder in Dutch newspaper Trouw for digital literacy. “Occupations of the future require deep human contact.”

Anka Mulder says in Trouw that digital literacy or medialiteracy is urgent and she advocates teaching teachers to be medialiterate . Quite right, but the suggestion is that it has not yet happened in the Netherlands, and that is actually incorrect. There has already been a media literacy program for almost ten years: the National Training for Media Coach NOMC. NOMC has trained more than a thousand teachers and librarians. They now know about themes like online privacy, smartphone, fake news, coding, bullying, 3D printing, robots, and more of the famous 21st century skills.

Artificial intelligence empowered education
Granted: there are only a thousand + media coaches, so that does not work out. All 250 thousand teachers in primary and secondary education in Holland, plus all Dutch university teachers, demand a huge increase in scale. We no longer need more human teachers, we need the use of artificial intelligence (AI – the brain of robots). AI is the only structural solution to make us learn faster and more massively. This applies not only to teachers of media literacy, but to all teachers.

The current inclusion of Dutch government (basically, any government) – hiring more human teachers to lift the teacher’s shortage – will not work. It’s  a dead end. We have trusted the human mind for thousands of years, but that’s a bit on its way. Our brain urgently needs robotic help. We need AI-empowered education. Robots must take over the boring part of teacher work and turn regular teachers into super professionals, who will finally have time for deep human contact with their pupils. ANd human contact – that is what fuels the labor market of the future.

“Jobs of the Future” basically need one skill: deep human contact
Anka Mulder warns that digital skills are needed for the labor market and that we are now heading for inequality. That is put mildly and I think, in fact, inequality is not the point. Robots steal our jobs, and nobody, highly educated or low educated, is immune to this theft. Many research agencies have estimated that around half of the current professions will be “Disappear Jobs”: occupations with tasks that (future) robots can do better, and that’s a lot. I doesn’t matter if you’re medialiterate or not – those jobs are gone forever.

What remains is the much-discussed “Occupations of the Future” – occupations with tasks that robots can not do, that humans are unique in. They all require deep human contact (ranging from design, leadership and creativity to massage and caring for the elderly). That’s what the future is all about. But smartphone zombies prevent this deep human contact. And an alarming part of the present generation (both young and old) seems to be addicted to the screen.

Smartphone zombies are unable to maintain a healthy balance between attention to the screen and attention to the people around them. Smartphones distort friendships, distort learning ability at school, distort cooperation in good harmony at work. The H-Generation (Hyperconnected Generation) will be unable to obtain any of those “Professions of the Future”…

Smartphone Zombies prevent deep human contact. We need Smartphone Free Education
I had a new look at a survey called The Guru’s Speak: Digital Life in 2025 & Hyperconnected Youth in 2020 that was done in 2012 (!) by PEW, an estimated US Research Institute. One half of the thousand interviewed experts saw mainly problems, such as lack of focus and deep human contact, the other half saw mainly opportunities, such as the emergence of a global brain.

In reality, both effects are noticeable, positive and negative, and not just by 2020, but now. In my contribution to this survey, I pleaded for timeout zones at school, smartphone-free classes, and classes in ignoring people online. Delearning instead of learning.

This year, PEW came up with new research, which shows that the dosed use of technology can contribute to harmony online and offline. Only this way the H-Generation can turn into possible candidates for the labor market of the future.

In order to arrive into that future, two completely separated worlds must reach out to each other. Collaboration between robots and teachers, between the robot makers and the education makers. Come on, Technological Universities of the world!

Marcel Bullinga is a futurologist and adviser to the Dutch National Academy for Media and Society. He is currently writing a book about robots. He also wants to design a Robot Trendwatcher. He can be reached via info@futurecheck.nl.