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Will coding become a basic life skill? Yes and no, say experts
Almost all experts agree that coding will become nearly as ubiquitous as literacy in the future. But the nature of coding in the future may be very different.
- Coding is increasingly being taught in high schools, and it's become a desirable skill even outside of the tech industry.
- Experts argue that coding is becoming the new literacy; a skill so fundamental that everyone should possess it to some degree.
- However, the nature of coding in the future is likely to be wildly different than it is today.
It's one of the most sought-after skills out there, and for good reason. Learning to program is difficult, despite what advocates of the "Learn to Code" movement may say. Human minds are a confluence of assumptions, biases, and irrational fantasies, and forcing these fickle things to speak in the rigorous language of computer programming takes work. Programming is difficult, but it's also extremely valuable and — increasingly — necessary.
Many believe that just as basic computer skills went from the realm of specialists to a life skill everyone possesses, so too will programming become ubiquitous. Learning to code might become as commonplace as learning to read. Will this really be the case? And if so, what will the programmers of the future look like?
Teaching students to code
In 2016, Gallup and Google partnered together to quantify exactly how prevalent programming classes were in K–12 education. They found that 40 percent of all schools offered at least one coding class, but the truly illuminating indicator was that just a year before, this number was 25 percent. One can only imagine how quickly coding has grown in the years since the 2016 report.
Apple CEO Tim Cook underscored the importance of learning to code during a conversation he had with President Trump at the White House Policy Advisory Board in March of 2019: "We believe strongly that it should be a requirement in the United States for every kid to have coding before they graduate from K–12 and become somewhat proficient at it." The city of Chicago appears to have listened to Cook. Chicago recently made having at least one credit of computer science a high school graduation requirement. Other municipalities and states are likely to follow suit.
There's a very clear trend here. Coding is becoming an increasingly core part of a modern education. It seems to check all the boxes: not only does it train children to think logically and rigorously, its also a skill that will help secure them a lucrative job in the future. Coding is clearly being adopted at a high rate, but how far will this adoption spread?
Will knowing how to code be as common as knowing how to read?
English professor Annette Vee certainly thinks so. In her book, Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing, Vee compares the role of programming in society with the role that literacy has had historically. Vee notes that in the Middle Ages, "Writing was a specialized skill and people became defined by their writing." As time went on, however, literacy became increasingly common and increasingly necessary. "If you couldn't read, you were left out." Vee argues that the computationally illiterate will increasingly have to rely on others to navigate daily life in a way that will seriously hamper their prospects. "If you don't know how to program, you can carry on with a perfectly fine life. But this is going to change soon."
"Programming is too important to be left just to computer science departments," said Vee. "It can be taught effectively outside of computer science. If we assume that those who learn to write need to be English majors, we would be in trouble." This observation is also being reflected in the workplace. The tech industry isn't the only place where coding skills are valuable. Programming is an increasingly desired skill in the healthcare and finance industries, among others.
The impact of low-code platforms and machine learning
While the breadth of programming skills may increase in the future, its depth is likely to decrease. More people will become fluent programmers, but the share of expert programmers probably won't increase to the same degree. That number might even shrink as they become less necessary and as programming tools become more advanced and powerful.
Part of this is due to the rise of low-code platforms. As defined by Forrester Research, low-code platforms "enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment." These are platforms such as Salesforce or AgilePoint that simplify specific technical challenges (such as Salesforce with customer relations) or act as a generic tool for quickly building applications (as is the case with AgilePoint).
Low-code platforms will make it easier for non-experts to contribute to software development in the near future, but they represent part of a larger trend, too. Automation and machine learning are quickly transforming the nature of work, and software development is no exception. An automated future might mean that nobody will really need to know how to program anymore. Google AI researcher Pete Warden believes this change will come quickly. "There will be a long ramp-up as knowledge diffuses through the developer community," wrote Warden in a 2017 blog post, "but in ten years I predict most software jobs won't involve programming."
In order for a machine-learning algorithm to work correctly, it needs access to the right kind of data. An algorithm that automatically identifies people's faces from photographs, for instance, needs to be trained on a dataset where people's faces are tagged, so it can know what to look for. Warden thinks that tasks like this will become the software developer's primary job in the future: "Instead of writing and maintaining intricate, layered tangles of logic, the developer has to become a teacher, a curator of training data and an analyst of results."
Investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban also believes that this will be the case. He predicts that for this very reason, people who are experts in fields outside of computer science will become indispensable to software development. "Because it's just math and so, whatever we're defining the AI to do, someone's got to know the topic," he said on an episode of Recode Decode. "If you're doing an AI to emulate Shakespeare, somebody better know Shakespeare [...] The coding major who graduates this year probably has better short-term opportunity than the liberal arts major that's a Shakespeare expert, but long term, it's like people who learned COBOL or Fortran and thought that was the future and they were going to be covered forever."
Altogether, it looks as though coding will indeed become a basic life skill similar to literacy, but the nature of coding and computer science is also going to change in significant and unpredictable ways. As the need for expertise diminishes due to machine learning, everyone will likely become a novice programmer, familiar with coding just to the extent that it is relevant for their job. Everyone can read and write today, but not everyone can write a best-selling novel or a nuanced critique of Jane Austen. In the future, this relationship will likely hold true for programming as well; the masses will know enough about programming and computer science to make use of flexible, smart, and robust software tools, while a handful of experts will continue to push the field forward.
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Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.