Be Prepared – Scouts and AI

Scouting is education for life – this is what everyone involved in our Movement learns at their first contact. And though this is somehow useful when deciding about the content of our programmes, it remains a vague definition unless we manage to clarify two issues:

what education?

what life? (i.e. what skills/attitudes are relevant?)

The answer to the first question is the same as over a century ago: the Scout method. This is still an effective way to achieve the goals of Scouting and I’m doubtful that its elements will change significantly in the near future.

But the second one has answers that change constantly and with increasing speed. Keeping them central in our educational efforts is paramount if we want to deliver a relevant, high-quality service. If we do not understand what the world would look like in the future how can we pretend to help young people prepare for it?

Essentially, there are two aims aims expressed in the mission of Scouting:

  • we want people to be active citizens and
  • we wish they have happy and fulfilled lives

Active Citizens

Scouting has traditionally been associated with community involvement. From the stereotypical help for the old lady crossing the street to the modern international service projects, Scouts are often praised for their deep sense of responsibility. Today, the view of “involvement” has expanded to not only the service to others but also to oneself, and the development of the person is seen as equally important to the direct actions which impact the community. The motto of the movement itself, “Be Prepared”, is now understood more as preparation for life, with all its professional, social and personal aspects.

Therefore, the ability to predict what sort of future people are most likely to operate in becomes an essential part in helping young people to become active citizens.

I read a large amount of books and articles presenting plausible scenarios about the future and, as normal, there is a certain diversity in the predictions, depending on the field of expertise and interest of the author. Despite the variations, the majority of the futurologists seem to agree on a number of areas and, as as a personal choice, the top three are as follows:

Technology:

  • Nanotechnology,
  • The rise of the machines,
  • Product and device convergence, the Internet of Things

Science:

  • Genetic engineering
  • Space exploration and planet colonization
  • Quantum world

Social

  • Universal Basic Income
  • The effects of climate change
  • The decentralization of economy (and education) : bitcoin, edublocks…

Personal

  • Augmented humans
  • Diversity
  • Abundance

What can Scouting do to prepare people for a world where all of the above will, most probably, be an everyday reality? This could certainly be the subject of an entire book so I’ll look consider only the professional aspect of it, which is somewhat easier to define. Looking at what possibly would be the most sought-after jobs (i.e. jobs preformed by humans) in the future (in articles from Business Insider UK or The Telegraph), I would cluster them in four categories:

  1. Jobs dealing with people – those relying heavily on inter-personal skills (psychologists, social workers, etc.)
  2. Jobs dealing with numbers – those applying math to business (analysts, economists, etc.)
  3. Jobs dealing with human health – those dealing with the complex aspects of health (geneticists, microbiologists, etc.)
  4. Jobs dealing with spaces and structures  – those dealing with the management of physical world (architects, environmental scientists, etc.)

Carefully consider the nature of these jobs and you’ll see that there is one element which is common to all: the element of unpredictabilityWhere the job requires people to deal with lots of unpredictable people and environments, with complex and evolving situations and unknown environments and with ambiguous data, people will stay ahead of the machines. At least for a while.

McKinsey has recently released an interesting report on the potential for automation across the various job types in various industries available here.

Our current digital landscape could lead us to believe that the safe bets are with jobs related to coding, software and creating virtual reality, on “being plugged”, the reality is that real value in the future comes from being “unplugged” – because the tasks which will be the last to be taken by machines are related to real people and the physical world around us. The machines can automate plenty of math but only humans can adapt and use data in the real world. Machines might be able to perform complex surgery but it will still take a human to elaborate a diagnostic based on the complex set of data and personal circumstances.

The arts

As long as art continues to be a life-providing occupation, the danger of machines superseding human creativity is ridiculously low. The recent attempts of machines creating music are perfect examples of the limitations! It is probably safe to say that all creators of beauty are safe for the foreseeable future.

And the topic of arts is even more important if we take into account that, most probably, no one would not NEED a job anymore in the future. With the Universal Basic Income becoming more generalised and probably covering all the needs of a person, any employment will become more vocational than anything else. Doctors will practice medicine out of passion and so would lawyers (for the first the situation might be the same even today, for the latter I’m more skeptical!).

Everyone will have the time to create and, given the right amount of training and talent, be quite good at it.The most precious resource of all, time, will finally be given back to the people and we will all be faced with the challenge of abundance (of time as well as, probably, anything else) – something we’re not equipped to deal with and we’re certainly not educating for. There is already a name for this possible future: Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC).

This, in conjunction with all the other changes that the 4th industrial revolution will bring, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships.

What about Scouting?

So where does all this leave us, in Scouting? To me, the main leanings we need to take forward are:

Start early

The important changes we need to operate in people’s knowledge, minds and behaviours would not happen in their late teen years or at the university. Whatever we consider essential for shaping a happy and fulfilled life in the future has to be addressed at the earliest age possible.

Cooperation with the formal education

There is increased pressure on schools to diversify and outsource learning. Project-based, small groups, outdoors, peer-learning and gamification will become permanent offers in schools’ curricula. Scouting has a huge potential to cover a large needs area in the formal education (which, by the way, will become less and less formal).

Talent management

With little need of an employment as a means for subsistence, people’s happiness and use of time will revert to their innate and acquired talents and interests. Helping people discover and get better at what they’re good at might provide them with a better chance of a happy and fulfilled life.

Resilience

The social and economic conditions are changing constantly and they’re likely to do so, in a accelerated manner even, for the future. Change seems to be the only constant in modern life and the successful ones are those who are able and quick to adapt. Some time ago I asked one of the wisest Scouts I had the pleasure to meet, Dominique Bénard, what is the most important skill a person should develop for the future and his answer was quick and clear: resilience. The only skill that would allow people to deal with the unpredictability of the future is their resilience, their capacity to cope with change, adapt and make the most of it. We need to work more in Scouting in developing these skills, even more so if we consider our motto is “Be Prepared”.

Educate for diversity

The standard boxes in which we put people in (race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.) will probably cease to exist and make place to a society of individuals, each of them with a set of treats and personality to contribute to the whole. In the same way that today the fact that you’re blue- or brown-eyed, or that you’re introvert or extravert is more of a matter-of-fact issue, the same would probably be in the future for being gay or straight, Romanian or Australian, Jewish or atheist. There will all be seen as individual, not group, differences, some of them relevant and enriching and some with no impact whatsoever in the larger community.  Moreover, the concept of country and nation as defined in the 19th Century will probably make place to a patchwork of non-state structures of association. The inventiveness and internationalism of a world networked by interests and shared causes is likely to be more resilient than one crammed into the artificial – and increasingly constraining – box of the national state. As we see now, globalization and the increased contact among people is already blurring the lines as to the race and culture of individuals, and religion tends to be considered more of a cultural trait rather than a deep identity one. To be able to operate in such a society, we need to help young people develop empathy, openness and a culture of dialogue, while fighting against xenophobia, racism and all forms of extremism.

Critical thinking

In a time where self-publishing and the”like&share” phenomenon almost killed mainstream mass-media, the issues of “alternative facts” and “fake news” has risen to alarming level. It has become easier than ever to manipulate people into believing all sorts of non-sense and, even worse, act upon those beliefs. Helping people develop critical thinking is not only relevant for easily debunk-able stories in the “vaccine cause autism” category but, mostly, in the more subtle area of being aware of personal biases and their origin or the effects of filter bubbles in social media. Critical thinking is the brain’s antivirus software and we should make sure it’s installed on all our young people.

Know Thyself

Our times and societies are notoriously hedonistic and narcissistic. Instant gratification and the importance of how we appear to others are increasingly determinant for how people live their lives.

In the Greek myth, Narcissus falls in love not with himself, but with his reflection. In the modern version, Narcissus would fall in love with his own Instagram feed, and starve himself to death while compulsively counting his followers. (Arthur C. Brooks)

We define ourselves more through the perception of others and this is more of a risk than people realise. For indeed this is a sure way to easily succumb to group pressure, become gullible, take extreme stances or join cults of all sorts. In Scouting we have to continue to help young people reflect on what they do, why they do it and the results it has on their personality. Pressed by the “living on the fast lane” lifestyle, there are instances when Scouting becomes a quick succession of high-adrenaline, fun activities which keeps people busy, but lacks that calm time when the impact of an experience is filtered, distilled, personalised and understood. Only by completing this step does the learning cycle is really complete, maximising the impact of an educational act. Offering young people the opportunity to really explore themselves, their motivations, their traits, combined with a strong critical thinking is a sure way that they will find the best place to be happy in the grand scheme of things.

Open Source Learning and Edublocks

Life long learning has already been accepted as an essential for success in the future. But besides education being extended in time, we should also advocate for it being extended in space. As a non-formal education movement we need to promote more the opportunity and, more importantly, the validation of learning from new sources like MOOCs, blogs, videos, leisure activities and hobbies, projects, hackathons, open-source education, etc. The decentralisation of education should play in Scouting’s hands but it’ll increase the responsibility we have in providing the right support for young people. We should really act more like an educational movement and less a leisure one. In the way Wikipedia is self-regulated and the BitCoin is tracked via Blockchain we can imagine (as the people from The Institute of the Future and ACT Foundation have done here) a world in which learning is not only entirely learner-centred but also learner-controlled. And even if “The Ledger” might not become a reality itself, I am convinced that the future will converge towards a peer-regulated system where individual needs and circumstances will define the method and content of our education.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanised form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails. (Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum)

A word about happiness

There are four primary chemicals in the brain that effect happiness: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Barring chemically induced altered states, the only way to achieve the right balance among those chemicals is through  a complex interaction with the outside world called life. Through its method including outdoors, meaningful social interaction and personal progression, Scouting is ticking a lot of boxes in creating the right conditions for happiness. But there is one special ingredient that Scouting is providing and it helps its members be, on average, happier people.

In 2014, a study with over 18’000 subjects from the University College of London presented an “equation of happiness” (more exactly “A Computational Model of Momentary Subjective Well-Being) which examines the relationship between chosen certain rewards (CRs), the expected values (EVs) of chosen gambles, and RPEs (the difference between experienced and predicted rewards) and happiness.

You can find a lot more about the study from the scientific paper itself, but what the result really boils down to is the following:

“Our computational model suggests momentary happiness is a state that reflects not how well things are going but instead whether things are going better than expected.”

In other words:

HAPPINESS = REALITY – EXPECTATIONS

Therefore, in order to be happy, we can either improve reality or lower our expectations!

But this is not it! In 2016, a follow-up of the study produced a new version of the “equation”, adding an important element – the relationship with the others:

The additional term w4 relates to advantageous inequality (guilt) when the reward received by the subject Rj exceeds the reward received by the other player Oj, and w5 relates to disadvantageous inequality (envy) when Oj exceeds Rj.

Again, there are a lot of scientific data in the paper itself, but what it actually said was that,

“Subjective emotional state reflects not only the impact of rewards they themselves receive, but also the rewards received by a social partner. Advantageous and disadvantageous inequality both reduce momentary happiness on average”.

This adds the extremely important social factor/empathy in the definition, showing that we evolved to be happy in a social setting and that equality plays an important role in how we perceive our own happiness. Or, as we say in Scouting,

…real happiness comes from bringing it to other people!

 

2 Comments to “Be Prepared – Scouts and AI”

  1. Derek Pollard says : Reply

    Radu – your article is a valuable synthesis of many factors which deserve more consideration than is possible in a brief comment, and I applaud the general direction of your thinking, and particularly the importance of reflection in the self-education process. However I suggest in defining Scouting as education for life it does not contain a sufficient consideration of the need for that education to include the development of a set of personal values to support RESPONSIBLE active citizenship in the society you point to. As you say Scouting seeks to empower young people not just to be happy and personally fulfilled, but to influence their communities for good through their actions – a process which for short we call ‘leadership’ ? How do we develop that in response to your set of trends ?

    1. rstinghe says : Reply

      Derek, thank you for taking the time to read the post and comment. I agree that in order to create a better world we need more than just educate people (regardless of how relevant that education is). I take the view that, in order to achieve this, we need a combination of three factors: positive values, leadership skills and a system to help young people collect data, form a view of the world and make informed decisions accordingly. You can see an elaboration of these point in another blog entry here: http://radu.ch/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-what-does-it-take-to-change-the-world/

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