Many Baby Boomers and X-geners remember Skynet from the Terminator movie franchise as the computer overlord that controls the world and is trying to destroy mankind. All of this is premised on the ability for machines to “learn” and become “self-aware” in the future. Ironically, the first Terminator came to theaters just 13 years before Kasporov was beaten in chess by IBM’s Deep Blue, and about 27 years before IBM’s Watson defeated Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. While some argue philosophically about whether machines can or will become “self-aware” there is no argument about whether machines can consume information (data) and apply it to a given problem. We also know that machines can test the application of information to this problem set and develop an “optimal” solution by literally testing millions of scenarios in seconds – “machine learning.”
In fact, many believe we are currently in a dramatic and rapid economic disruption that is being brought about by machine learning. Consider recent reports like that from TED Radio Hour: The Digital Industrial Revolution, which describes a not-too-distant future where robots won’t just be better than us at physical or routine tasks but will be replacing us in jobs like medical diagnosis, customer service, computer programming, engineering, surgery . . . and the list goes on. Some speculate that 65% of students that are entering school today will be employed doing something that doesn’t even exist currently. As a hint of this future, IBM’s Watson is now helping make complex decisions about Cancer treatment with real patients.
So what are Catholic Schools doing to prepare students for this future? Here are five very important things you will not find in a Public School:
Religious and Moral Formation: In an increasingly secular world that has few moral limits, it will be important for the future of our world to apply a Catholic Worldview and Gospel Values to this rapidly changing world that will also have very few technological limits. We are rapidly approaching the technological capabilities written about in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and our children need the theological and moral foundation to address these future moral dilemmas.
Understanding of Self and Relationship with Jesus Christ: Society promotes an image of self and relationships that confuses “happiness” and “self-fulfillment” with temporal pleasures. In a future in which virtual, augmented, and real worlds collide and nearly all needs and wants can be “simulated” or “augmented,” people will need to have a strong foundation in the enduring Truth: God’s love for us and our love for one another.
Strong Sense of Purpose: People tend to define their purpose and self through their occupation: “I am a doctor;” “I am a lawyer;” “I am a teacher.” In a future where our children’s occupations may change 20 or more times in their lifetimes, they will need to have a strong sense of purpose that transcends occupation and focuses on the more fundamental purpose of serving God and each other through their words and deeds.
Catholic Intellectual Tradition: In a future world without the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, students may come to believe that studying material such as history is a worthless exercise since they can easily find the facts on Google. As machines get more powerful, where does this leave education? Will students still want to learn? The Catholic intellectual tradition is a “dialogue between faith and culture” that dates back to the beginning of the Church. Catholics believe that we should educate to what is “True, Good, and Beautiful.” In the end, our goal is to grow in the Knowledge and Love of Jesus Christ. This goal compels us as humans to seek and acquire knowledge for its own sake. We must do this for our own soul and salvation. It is how we have this “dialogue.” It is not enough that a machine can store and use the information – we humans must acquire this knowledge to be fully human.
Educating the Whole Child: In a world where nearly every fact, figure, and statistic is a few clicks away and computers can analyze all of this information far faster than even a 1000 humans, no one will be able to stay employed for their ability to memorize information, analyze data for patterns, develop mathematical probabilities, or even design basic computer algorithms. Computers will be able to do these things better. Instead, the jobs will be based on our ability to understand complex information and apply it collaboratively, creatively, and critically. Education needs to promote more than just the ability to score well on math and science tests. Education of the whole child will be paramount.
These are just a few of the areas in which Catholic schools are better preparing future generations for the life and the world they will confront. These things are far more important than any one AP course or test score. Our local Catholic schools are preparing our students for life and a future that is full of both great promise and significant challenge.