The importance of lifelong learning in an age of algorithms

“There’s no finishing line … the pace of change is accelerating.” Richard Susskind

We live in a time of incredible transformation. Our machines are growing and learning at a phenomenal rate. As yet, there is no end in sight – no limit to their potential. So how can we, as individuals and professionals, prepare ourselves for the future?

The Harris Debate 2018, which took place last month, tackled some of the issues surrounding our future in a world of algorithms. The topic sparked great interest. It seemed highly appropriate that hundreds of people watched the debate live online – the highest turnout for this annual event to date.

Three expert guests – Richard Susskind, David Wood and Katie King – joined our Host, Tim Neal FRICS, and the Chair, Lord Bichard, to explore this fascinating subject.

Opportunity or threat?

“As we evolve and go through these next industrial revolutions, we’ll become more and more comfortable with different types of technology.” Katie King

Should we be excited or wary about our future with technology and algorithms? Views were expressed from both sides. Clearly, there are causes for concern. There are serious ethical and safety issues to address, for example. However, there is also the potential for ground-breaking, positive progress – if we can learn how to embrace the changes.

It was the debate’s Chair, Lord Bichard, who introduced the phrase ‘lifelong learning’ into the discussion. For me, this is a hugely important point. Whatever our views about the future – whether we are curious or concerned – as individuals we have a choice: we can wait to see what happens, or we can prepare ourselves. We can arm ourselves with knowledge and new skills.

How we gain the knowledge and skills we need to thrive in the future might vary. It could range from formal education through to learning on the job or self-directed learning. In fact, a mix of approaches is likely to yield the best results. In addition, our focus may need to be broader than we assume. There may be a need to enhance social and emotional skills, allowing individuals and society to build resilience.

“Along with ‘learning how to learn’ and change management, I would also put a higher premium on emotional intelligence…” David Wood

During times of great change, resilience is vital. Taking a lifelong learning approach to change can help to ensure that we have the personal and professional tools we need.

Taking charge of our future

“This is a time of great opportunity – in fact it’s more than that: it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege for us to be born at a time of such radical change.” Richard Susskind

To my mind, all those who watched this year’s Harris Debate were demonstrating ‘lifelong learning’ in action. Technology will not wait for us and so it is vital that we keep on learning. By continually seeking advice from experts, acquiring knowledge to help inform our decisions and by always striving to learn more, we will be able to actively shape our future in an age of algorithms.

This year’s debate was just a start, of course. There is a vast amount to be learned, and we will need to keep on learning throughout our lifetimes. Change brings new lessons with it at every turn. Each person who watched the debate will follow their own path from here and I am hopeful that, as a result of their journey, they will feel encouraged and more prepared for the future.

Jonathan Harris