Welcome to the New World: The World of Smart Technology

Smart technology will completely change both your way of life and your way of working. We will live in the most disruptive time for the workforce since the Great Depression. Technology will automate both blue- and white-collar jobs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to optimize human performance, but it can be a technology bomb used to manipulate or transform human thinking and behaviors in manipulative ways that harm humans, society, and global peace. We have seen the bad results of social media manipulating human emotions in ways that have led to teenage deaths in the United States. What is possible now is the manipulation of how human beings think.

Technology will continue to advance in many areas: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, virtual and augmented reality, human-like robots, 3D Printing, digital medicine, imbedding technology in your body, and powerful drones, among others. All of this is likely to unfold in this decade.

A Societal, Existential Issue: Are Public Schools Equipped?

Our public education system is hindered significantly by achievement gaps underserving the students who will likely be at the highest risk of automation — the digital divide and the need for educational learning to become personalized to meet individual needs.

Education in the United States is not an equal opportunity game. Wealthy families can buy the best education from kindergarten through graduate school. Most American families can’t do that. What is at stake is the American Dream for those individuals and families who are not wealthy.

If we do not train our students fast enough to do the types of work that smart technology can’t do well at any given time, people will be left behind. That will further increase income inequality further polarizing our country. If we do not transform our way of educating people, the result will be horrendous — millions and millions of people will not have work.

What AI Has to Say for Itself

Below are ChatGPT-4’s answers to my question “What will be the impact on our society if public schools do not embrace fast enough the need to train students to do the types of work that smart technology can't do well?”

“If public schools do not embrace the need to train students for work that smart technology cannot do well, there could be several potential impacts on society:

  1. Skills Mismatch: Failure to adapt the curriculum to prepare students for work that requires uniquely human skills that could result in a significant skills mismatch. If schools do not prioritize developing these skills, students may graduate without the necessary competencies to succeed in the evolving job market.
  2. Increased Inequality: The lack of preparation for work that complements smart technology can contribute to widening socioeconomic disparities.
  3. Economic Competitiveness: Failing to train students for work that complements smart technology can have broader implications for a country's economic competitiveness. As the global workforce evolves, nations that successfully equip their students with the skills needed for future jobs will have a competitive advantage.
  4. Hindrance to Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Neglecting to foster human creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in students can severely impede innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors.
  5. Erosion of Social Cohesion: The failure to prepare students for work that complements smart technology undermines the development of social and emotional skills essential for effective collaboration, communication, and empathy. Neglecting to emphasize these skills carries the risk of eroding social cohesion and intensifying polarization within society.”

Teachers Will Become Human Development Coaches

In the Era of Smart Technology, teachers, teacher aides and out-of-school providers will become more like coaches — coaching each student in the unique ways needed by that student to develop the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that will enable them to have continuous work in an environment of continuous automation by smart technology. Human development will be the new priority of schools.

That requires a positive emotional school and classroom environment. Every school and every classroom must be a safe place emotionally and physically for every person. Psychological safety will be required to optimize the type of learning that must occur in the Smart Technology Era — a safe place where people treat each other in a kind, caring, compassionate, respectful manner. Emotions and the emotional environment of the school will determine the quality of learning and the effectiveness of students being able to learn the skills they will need to prosper in this new AI age.

Every student is unique, and that requires schools to create learning environments and processes that enable each student to learn “soft skills” and how to take ownership of self — ownership of one’s ego, mind, body, emotions, behaviors, words, listening, thinking and how one relates to others. That will be the journey to one’s best self, which will be the new goal of public-school education.

That is how students learn to be resilient and achieve emotional steadiness, a growth mindset, humility, and reflective listening skills; this is learning to think in ways that smart technology can’t think. That is how students will learn how to have the courage to go into the unknown and figure it out. That is how students will be able to manage their negative emotions and generate positive emotions which is the pathway to optimizing learning with others. Students will need to learn how to collaborate with other humans in ways that build carrying, trusting relationships that optimize learning and collaboration.

A successful teacher will be a teacher that does not teach to get good scores on state-wide tests. A successful teacher will be one who creates a classroom environment that optimizes:

  • The human dignity of every student
  • Psychological safety
  • Collaboration
  • Listening to learn not to confirm
  • Individual student development

That requires teachers to build trusting, caring relationships with each student in ways that the student feels listened to and cared about — that the teacher is talking with me not to me, that the teacher is really understanding me.

What Is at Stake and What Must Be Done

Our public education system must be transformed. Every school will need more teachers, more teacher aides, and more out-of-school-time providers. The curriculum must be redesigned to enable students to learn how to be on their journeys to best self cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally and to learn how to be highly adaptive learners who can learn, unlearn and relearn at the speed of change. That is how students will have meaningful work in the Smart Technology Age.

From a national perspective, what is at stake is our democracy and ability to be a global world leader.

From an individual perspective, what is stake is the opportunity for every human being to have meaningful work and a meaningful life in the Era of Smart Technology.

Technology will not wait on education. It is essential that our Federal, State and Local Governments immediately fund an Artificial Intelligence Public Schools and Workforce Transformation Program that will ensure all students and workers are equipped with the necessary skills and competencies for the Smart Technology Era. And such a program must be initiated and fully implemented by January 2025.

The preceding excerpts Darden Professor Ed Hess’ piece “AI Will Transform Our Public Education System.”

About the Expert

Edward D. Hess

Professor Emeritus of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence Emeritus

Hess is a top authority on organizational and human high performance. His studies focus on growth, innovation and learning cultures, systems and processes, and servant leadership.

Hess has authored 13 books, including The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System and Processes, co-authored by Darden Professor Jeanne Liedtka; Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial BusinessesLearn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization and Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (January 2017), co-authored by Katherine Ludwig. His newest book is Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt at the Speed of Change (September, 2020). He has written more than 160 practitioner articles and 60 Darden cases, and his work has appeared in more than 400 global media publications.

B.S., University of Florida; J.D., University of Virginia; LLM, New York University