Futurist Brian David Johnson Says We Must Master Two Human Skills In The Next 50 Years

Update: Shelly Palmer was incorrectly cited as the author of this post. We have changed the citation to the correct author, Intel futurist Brian David Johnson.

Brian David Johnson, Intel’s in-house “futurist,”* has some important questions for us all:

“How do we prepare ourselves and our children for a future where we are surrounded by ever-increasing intelligent machines? What skills will we need in a future where computers do tasks originally performed by people?

There are two skills that computers will have a really hard time mastering in the next few decades. By understanding how computers and algorithms work, it becomes clear that the skills of tomorrow are emotional intelligence and cognitive synthesis.

Human beings are really good at communicating with other human beings. We understand each other through a complex system of audio and visual clues that baffle computers. Being human and being able to communicate and interact with other humans is a unique skill that will be even more in demand in the future than it is today.

Cognitive synthesis is the ability to take information from a wide variety of sources, combine them and then make sense of this new information. Humans are really good at taking inputs from multiple places, mixing them together in new ways and coming up with new ideas and perspectives.

By their very definition, current algorithms are really bad at this. They aren’t designed to do it. If a computer was making a cake and found it was missing a cake pan, it would freeze or crash. If a human baker was confronted with the same problem, he might look for a cupcake pan instead.

This kind of lateral thinking is where human innovation is born, and it points out some current problems in how we think of education.”

We’re teaching to test and cutting funding for the arts, Johnson notes, even as we should be helping them make connections across disciplines:

“This kind of cross-subject learning is at the base of lateral thinking and the cognitive synthesis that we will all need to compete in the future. If we are teaching students simply to pass a standardized test, aren’t we preparing them for their jobs to be taken over by a computer?” (Read more here.)

Palmer’s point reminds me of the great book by Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind, which points out that in an age of high tech, human beings can thrive by becoming “high concept” (idea synthesizers and generators) and “high touch” (emotionally adept).

(Note: When reading Pink’s book, just ignore the scientifically-unsupported “right brain” and “left brain” stuff. His insights are quite useful without it.)

* DISCLAIMER from the original post: I am Intel’s futurist. I am currently on sabbatical from Intel.  My thoughts, observations and analyses are mine personally and I am not speaking on behalf of Intel.