Robot-Proof Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Will robots and AI take over the world of work?

Ken Robinson

If was an educator I would scratch my head. That is what “Robot-proof,  Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” does. If you are a Ken Robinson fan, you know what I am talking about. If not, watch the most popular on TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” recorded in 2006. My favourite quote: “Our education has mined our minds like we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity”. That was 2006. We are now in 2018. In the time of robots, AI and quantum computing, genetic manipulation and augmentation. At exponential rate.

Robots are feared more than death (or public speaking)

Being a commodity is not going to cut it. And deep down, we know. In 2015, Chapman University published the results of a survey ranking the U.S. public’s worst fears. “Man-made disasters” such as terrorism and nuclear attacks stood at the top of the list of popular horrors. But in close second place—even more, terrifying than crime, earthquakes, and public speaking—was fear of technology. According to the survey, Americans fear robots replacing people in the workforce more than they fear death—and by a full seven percentage points.

Rightly so?

  • Labour experts are increasingly and justifiably worried that computers are becoming so adept at human capabilities that soon there will be no need for any human input at all.
  • Semi-autonomous machines may soon join soldiers on the battlefield.
  • In China, “co-bots”—machines that can work in factories safely alongside human beings—are upending that country’s vaunted manufacturing sector, allowing fewer labourers to be vastly more productive.
  • In 2015, sales of industrial robots around the world increased by 12% over the previous year, rising to nearly a quarter of a million units.
  • One estimate suggests that, by 2019, 40% of global connections between devices will be performed by machines with other machines.
  • By 2020, it is estimated that we will live in a world of fifty billion smart objects, creating a true ecosystem of information.
  • By 2025, our planet will count eight billion human inhabitants, all of them with human ambition, intelligence, and potential.Our planet will be more connected and more competitive than the one we know today.
  • A full 12% of global goods trade is now e-commerce.
  • The McKinsey study found that 361 million people e-shop across international borders, 44 million work online in other nations, and fully 914 million cross borders in their social networks.
  • A generation ago, a person could spend four years of her life earning a bachelor’s degree and confidently expect entry into a lifetime of steady middle-class employment. This is no longer the case.
  • “The media industry is run by robots,” marketing today has essentially been transformed into a process of data analytics: “It’s about how you interpret the data to understand people’s behaviour. What’s the insight? What’s the ‘creative’ around that, and then what are the channels?” Increasingly, these channels are automated.
  • Software is eating the world, we need software developers. But it is less clear what we will need when software finishes its meal and settles down to digest. What happens when robots learn to program themselves?
  • Imagine the impact of a large corporation being able to train a single employee and then clone him into an army of workers, all of whom instantly possess his knowledge and experience but, from that point on, are also capable of continuing to learn and adapt to new situations.
  • One estimate from the World Economic Forum claims that 65% of children entering primary school today will eventually work in jobs that do not yet exist.
  • As advanced machines and computers become more and more proficient at picking investments, diagnosing disease symptoms, and conversing in natural English, it is difficult not to wonder what the limits to their capabilities are. In any predictable task, computers have humans at a cognitive disadvantage.
  • Artificial implants and enhancements will soon be a reality for people who can afford them. By augmenting their human abilities with cybernetic upgrades, some people will boost their lifespans, senses, physiques, and perhaps even intelligence. Furthermore, families that can afford to purchase genetic modifications might snip away bothersome genes (like nearsightedness or a predisposition to weight gain) but also customise sons and daughters to their most exacting specifications.
  • New technologies will create new, good work, which might often benefit the less skilled. But it will not be scalable mass employment. And it will not solve the problem of labour abundance.” Despite the invention of unforeseen jobs, the confluence of “automation, globalization, and the rising productivity of a highly skilled few” will continue to suppress the value of human labour across the globe.
  • This is why many observers believe that technology’s potential to disrupt our economy—and our civilization—is unprecedented. Robots and advanced machines will soon surpass our most obvious evolutionary strengths, dwarfing us in cognition, precision, and power.

Which raises a question: what are human beings singularly good at doing?

We could be living in a time in which paid human labour becomes an anomaly. When the economy changes, so must education. In short, education needs a dramatic realignment. A robot-proof model of education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it refits their mental engines, calibrating them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or otherwise produce something society deems valuable.


We have evolved to imagine. We have evolved to be creative. Other animals apply intelligence to solving problems: crows fashion tools to pluck bugs out of wood, and sea otters wield rocks to crack clamshells. But only human beings can create imaginary stories, invent works of art, and even construct carefully reasoned theories explaining perceived reality. It is what the historian Yuval Noah Harari, channelling Lewis Carroll, calls “the ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast.”

Terra incognita

Here is the good news (as a counterweight to the jobless society). We are not going to get bored. Replace job with purpose, Much of the world remains terra incognita. There is more to find, in the heavens and on earth, than we can dream of in our blinkered present. We have a universe of scientific secrets to uncover and shoreless oceans of knowledge yet to cross. We have an infinite canvas to paint and endless music to play. From curing disease to restoring the environment to writing the next great novel, there is everything left to do. That is before we get to Mars


Instead of training labourers, a robot-proof education trains creators. They should read “Metaskills”  Educators should focus on humanics. Mindset (the growth one) literacy, system thinking, creativity, empathy, entrepreneurship, ethics, cultural agility, critical and convergent thinking. Focusing on creativity and mental flexibility. Focus on grace and beauty.

Learning by doing

To cement these in student’s minds, they need to experience them in the intensity and chaos of real work environments such as co-ops and internships. This involves thematic study across disciplines, project-based learning, and real-world connections. Learning by doing. Explicit learning across disciplines, project-based learning, and real-world connections. Mastery. When human learners are immersed in the incalculable variety of experience, they escape the strictures of predetermined input—which computers cannot do. They break free of their programming, and they upgrade their minds.

Combine everything with arts

Engineers must learn the dizzying intricacies of a structure’s composition and context, including materials, environment, the forces of physics, time, and logic. Such complexity spurs intellectual development, yet the study of human culture and behaviour is just as complex. Both demand the grasp of intricate systems, with the humanities and social sciences offering an elaborate mesh of history, art, geography, economics.

Combine everything with arts

The marriage of liberal arts skills with experiential learning and technological proficiencies is an ideal method for growing students’ cognitive capacities and their appetites for ongoing study in new learning situations throughout their lives.

Combine everything with arts

But experiential liberal arts experiences should not be only for liberal arts students. Even brilliant computer scientists have to thrive in a human context or risk having their work overlooked. Even trailblazing biochemists need to understand the social implications of their research. By enhancing their courses of study with the humanities and social sciences, programs in the “harder” disciplines can better prepare students to succeed.

My advice

My advice to my kids. Combine entrepreneurship with an arts degree and forget jobs. Focus on purpose. You can be jobless, but you cannot be purposeless. Find something you love to do. Learn by doing. Become a social entrepreneur. The entrepreneur’s journey is the ultimate learning by doing. You can talk all about what it is like, but unless you do it, you will never know what that experience is like.

It will pull in all the skills you need. Starting with being in control of your own destiny.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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