The world’s most influential decision-makers met this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the state of the world’s economy. These minds also meet to figure out how to tackle the major changes that we are going to be grappling with in a few decades.
Headlines have registered that Donald Trump showed up with his “America first” agenda and was booed when he called the press “fake”. This week also saw Justin Trudeau show up in ducky socks, and French president Emmanuel Macron be more eloquent in the English language than the American President and the British Prime Minister together.
Politics aside, Davos is also where the world’s CEOs meet, not just to rub elbows with politicians. Their decisions are arguably as influential as the statements of any politician. Alibaba founder Jack Ma was there and gave a wide-ranging interview. Among other topics, he spoke about how education has to change in the face of machine-learning and AI.
“Teachers must stop teaching knowledge. We have to teach something unique.”
The rise of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence has been a goldmine of a subject for creatives, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey all the way to Spike Jonze’s Her. The topic has always more or less been tackled as a distant fantasy with an aftertaste of dystopia. However, for Silicon Valley engineers and heads of global firms, short-term vision is counted in decades, and artificial intelligence is their present.
Google and Facebook have open entire labs dedicated to developing artificial intelligence computers. This has led to the creation of a computer that taught itself all possible moves in chess in under four hours. That process had no human input other than the basics rule of chess. Four hours later, the computer, AlphaZero, beat the world-champion chess software, Stockfish8.
That kind of automation will have a great number of implications for the world as we know it. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2030, 800 million jobs will have been replaced by machines. If so many jobs can be automated in the next twelve years, it’s high time (if not too late) that we overhaul education and learning as we know it.
Artifical intelligence has already found applications in the realm of education. In a virtual learning environment, it’s easy for a bot computer assistant to see where students are failing in their tests. Then the teacher can go in and work on the section of the curriculum that needs revising.
At another level, books which used to be in a physical library are now in online libraries and are now being turned into learning experiences. The content is no longer handed down in a lecturer-learner configuration, it comprises exercises challenging the student every so often. Learning becomes an interactive process that is scalable to any number of students.
The advancements in automation and computing are such that all the knowledge in the world can be transmitted easily and for very little to no money to anyone with an internet connection. However, in the third millennium, it well may be that knowledge isn’t what education systems should look to pass on to learners.
Moving away from pure knowledge
On my first day of business school, the Dean welcomed us with the following words. “All the knowledge that you’re going to gain here is already accessible for free online.” He then took a pause for dramatic effect. I wondered what I was going to tell my parents over the phone when they asked how my first day went.
He then added that the essential learning was going to be during the extra-curricular activites, when we developed projects and collaborated with other students. A few years down the line, it turned out to be true, and those experiences have proven invaluable.
In his interview at Davos, Jack Ma elaborated on what education needs to take on.
We have to teach something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us. These are the soft skills that we need to be teaching our children. Values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others. Knowledge will not teach you that. That is why we should teach our kids sports, entertainment, music, painting -art, to make sure humans are different. Everything we teach should be different from machines.
In other words, the knowledge that has been transmitted for millennia has been reduced to a formula. Computers can replicate it in a few hours. So what is left for humans to do? Well, everything else.
Teaching creativity in film schools
The purpose of a job interview is for the recruiter to assess if you’re going to be a good match in their team. They want to see if your values align with those of the company. They assume that you’re as good as you say you are. Soft skills are what is going to make the difference between you and the other candidate.
When I speak with people who are interested in the Raindance Postgraduate Degree, the first thing I say to them is this quote by Werner Herzog: “You can learn the essentials of filmmaking in two weeks.” So if you’re going to embark on a Master’s Degree, how do you know you’re going to get your money’s worth? After all, nowadays you can learn filmmaking from Herzog, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Aaron Sorkin all on one website.
Quite simply, our answer is that instead of focusing on the know-what, your curriculum with us focuses on the know-how. The Raindance MA programme is a negotiated learning environment. That means that you tell us what you want and need to learn to become the filmmaker you know you can be. Then, together, we’ll tailor a curriculum around you. Film schools can’t just focus on teaching technique.
Your focus in this film school will be yourself. How do you push yourself to get your singular artistic voice heard? What is your creative process? Just like machine learning, this is an iterative process. However, artificial intelligence’s abilities are finite as they are confined to knowledge. Intuition, creativity -soul: that is what is going to differentiate us from machines. It won’t just be a commodity, it’s going to be your currency.