Being Prepared to Face Our Future

Have any of you seen the film Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson? It takes place in the near future, and is a brilliant story about a man falling in love with his computer’s O.S. (operating system), which is an artificial intelligence that has a true consciousness (despite lacking a body). What does this portend for our futures?

In an op-ed by David Brooks earlier this month in The New York Times (“What Machines Can’t Do,” February 3, 2014), he stresses what mental skills will be more or less valuable as humans compete with increasingly intelligent machines. Clearly, machines can beat us hands down on tasks involving memory, as well as on quick calculations. But here are the qualities at which Brooks suggests we might excel, because computers can’t do them well, and which therefore would become more and more important:

  • Enthusiasm: having a voracious curiosity to know more will be rewarded
  • Strategic vision: machines will be better at tactical decisions (think chess), but those people who can keep a disciplined eye on long-term strategic goals will thrive
  • Procedural frames: those will prosper who can construct systems in which others can then collaborate in a productive but loose network of teams
    (think creators of Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia)
  • “Essentials:” by this Brooks means those who can grasp the heart of issues, see the gist of several matters, and creatively combine such essentials into something new

As Brooks explains in his conclusion, “Unable to compete when it comes to calculation, the best workers will come with heart in hand.”

Just so, the culture at the Academy values analytic skills that one day might be accomplished better by computers, but we also value human qualities – such as enthusiasm, strategic thinking, constructing the larger frame, and getting the gist of the matter – that Brooks suggests will make those like our graduates increasingly successful in the future. So go see Her (though be forewarned of some graphic parts making it less appropriate for younger ages — plus men don’t wear belts!), and be prepared to face our future!

Warm regards,
James S. Berkman
Head of School