Are you ready for the Imagination Age? Are you preparing your learners for the Imagination Age?

“We live in a world that’s still filled with barriers and limits. … But at the same time, the economic and technological shifts around us have created an entirely new class of ruckus makers and have given people the freedom to stand up and acknowledge that it’s their turn.

“Now, more than ever, more of us have the freedom to care, the freedom to connect, the freedom to choose, the freedom to initiate, the freedom to do what matters.”—Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn)

Robots eat jobs

Many people have said robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will soon take all our jobs. This process has already started. Robots and AI excel at physical and mental repetitive tasks as well as compiling, analyzing, and using large amounts of data. If that describes your job, start preparing your resume—the Imagination Age is at the door.

For example, Tesla recently announced the first self-driving fully electric semitruck that will start production in 2019. As this and other similar trucks hit the market, America’s 2.8 million truck drivers will begin to lose their jobs. Eventually, all trucks will be self-driving. If and when all cars become self-driving too, taxi drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers, bus drivers, and delivery drivers will also lose their jobs.

It’s not just blue-collar jobs at risk. AI can already diagnose certain cancers and diseases better than human doctors, and robots can perform certain surgeries and procedures better. Lawyers, financial analysts, teachers, you name it—we’re all facing powerfully capable electronic competition.

It’s not just robots and AI we need to worry about. Virtual, augmented, and mixed realities (aka expanded reality, or XR for short) are transforming the nature of work too. As Robert Scoble and Shel Israel wrote in The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything, “[w]hatever type of organization you belong to, your customers and competitors are growing increasingly interested in [XR]. The life of your business may depend on it soon.” (See the bibliographic information at the end of this column.)

In fact, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Future of Jobs Report predicted that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that that don’t yet exist.” Sadly, many schools don’t even teach the technologies that will dominate the 21st century.

Every one of us now faces a choice: Adapt or get left behind.

Welcome to the Imagination Age

The good news is that AI and robots won’t take all our jobs, at least not for a long time. The jobs that will be left for humans are creative and/or technical in nature, such as designers, writers, artists, inventors, scientists, data scientists, and programmers. These are tasks that require creativity, problem solving, and a level of intelligence that AI won’t likely reach for decades. Therefore, learning how to create (art, games, projects, software, tribes, businesses) with cutting-edge technology is both a necessity and an enormous opportunity.

For example, there’s already huge demand for AI and XR developers and an extreme dearth of supply. As a result, talented developers are earning seven- and eight-figure salaries, while new graduates of computer science departments are earning mid-six-figures. This imbalance will get worse for many years before it gets better because the demand is increasing exponentially—one whole industry after another—while the supply is increasing linearly, limited by the throughput of a handful of coding boot camps and the relatively small computer science departments at universities.

If you’ve read my previous columns, you’ve repeatedly heard that some of the most important technologies to master in the coming years include XR, AI, robotics, 3-D printing, the blockchain, and the Internet of Things. Together, these specific technologies empower us to solve problems, connect, and create like never before. In order to use the technologies effectively, however, we must adopt a new and evolving growth mindset and rethink how we learn and teach.

The new literacies

In his book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Joseph E. Aoun describes what he calls “the new literacies.” Universities absolutely must teach these new literacies to adequately prepare students for the rapidly changing job markets. The new literacies include technological literacy, data literacy, and human literacy.

Technological literacy means proficiency in mathematics, coding, and engineering. Digital natives (i.e., people young enough to have grown up with computers, the internet, smartphones, etc.) may know how to use countless apps and devices, but not how to make them. Coding in particular is quickly becoming a critical skill set for job seekers and aspiring entrepreneurs. Data literacy entails the capacity to compile, analyze, understand, and utilize the nearly infinite streams of data being created today. Increasingly, this requires the raw computing power of artificial intelligence. Human literacy allows us to communicate, engage, and connect with one another—again, often with the help of powerful technologies such as XR and AI. This necessitates understanding of the humanities, art, design, diversity, and deep empathy.

Together, these new literacies enable creation. Aoun writes:

“Creation will be at the base of economic activity and also much of what human beings do in the future. Intelligent machines may liberate millions from routine labor, but there will remain a great deal of work for us to accomplish. Great undertakings like curing disease, healing the environment, and ending poverty will demand all the human talent that the world can muster.”

He goes on to say:

“A robot-proof model of higher 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. This could be anything at all—a scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a new workout regimen, a web comic, a cure for cancer. Whatever the creation, it must in some manner be original enough to evade the label of ‘routine’ and hence the threat of automation. Instead of training laborers, a robot-proof education trains creators.”

In other words, we’re approaching a true technological renaissance, albeit with a bit of prodding. We’re being forced to think creatively—but, wait a minute, we’re finally free to think creatively! We have to learn more and faster than ever before—but, wait a minute, we get to learn more and faster than ever before! We may lose our repetitive jobs to robots and AIs—but, wait a minute, we’re no longer pigeonholed in our repetitive, soul-crushing jobs! Instead, we can now get to work on society’s most daunting problems, combining seemingly unrelated ideas gleaned from disparate fields into novel solutions, using devices straight out of Star Trek. We can now create in style, employing gesamtkunstwerk artistic principles to create whole new worlds and discover whole new ways of thinking, communicating, and being. With these three literacies, it becomes easier than ever before for students and educators alike to choose to learn new technologies such as XR and AI; create art, projects, and ventures that were impossible even five years ago; and change the world in profound ways.

Sine qua non

Eventually, it will no longer be a choice. Everyone will need to embrace the new literacies in order to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Individuals who learn to create with the technologies like XR and AI will thrive; those who don’t will struggle. Schools that teach these technologies will thrive and prepare students for success; those that don’t will become obsolete. Businesses that employ these technologies will thrive and create more jobs; those that don’t will disappear. Becoming fluent in new technologies gives us the freedom to live and create original works of art.

Additional resources

Must-read books

Aoun, Joseph E. Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.

Godin, Seth. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? New York, NY: Portfolio, 2010.

Godin, Seth. What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn). The Domino Project, 2014.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2011.

Scoble, Robert, and Shel Israel. The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything. Patrick Brewster Press, 2017.

Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

Reports by Deloitte about how AI and other new technologies are disrupting business

Sallomi, Paul, Bob Dalton, and David Schatsky. “Artificial Intelligence Goes Mainstream.” 29 July 2015.

Schatsky, David, Craig Muraskin, and Ragu Gurumurthy. “Cognitive technologies: The real opportunities for business.” 26 January 2015.

Schwartz, Jeff, Laurence Collins, Heather Stockton, Darryl Wagner, and Brett Walsh. 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: Rewriting the rules for the digital age

White, Mark, Tom Nassim, Jeff Carbeck, and Asif Dhar. Tech Trends 2017: The kinetic enterprise.

Articles with resources for learning AI and VR

Desmond, John P. “AI Trends Weekly Brief: Education for AI.” AI Trends. 9 November 2017.

Unity. “Tutorials.”

Unity. “Virtual Reality.”

Articles about the Imagination Age

Bidshahri, Raya. “How Technology Is Leading Us Into the Imagination Age.” SingularityHub. 19 November 2017.

Hansen, Drew. “Imagination: What You Need To Thrive In The Future Economy.” Forbes. 6 August 2012.

Wikipedia. “Imagination age.”