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Interpersonal Skills

 

How to thrive in a future where machines outsmart us

 

Former Google X Chief Business Officer, Mo Gawdat, predicts that by 2029, just eight years from now, the intelligence of machines that humans are building will equal or surpass the intelligence of their creators, commonly referred to as “the singularity.” Others predict the singularity won’t happen for a few years later, but consistently experts agree– it WILL happen. In fact, we already know that the world champions of Jeopardy, AlphaGo, and Chess are machines.  Computer expertise is growing by the day as computers never need to rest.  They can keep learning, non-stop–gives a whole new meaning to the term, “lifelong learning!”  Gawdat goes on to predict that by 2049 computers will be a billion times smarter than humans.  He compares this to the intelligence of Einstein juxtaposed with a fly.  

 

As I listened to Mr. Gawdat speak on this topic in a podcast interview, I wondered what does this mean for young people today?  And what does it tell us about what schools should be teaching young people right now? By Gawdat’s estimate, computers will match human intelligence by the time our current fifth graders graduate from high school.  The answer is complex and multi-layered, however, it was partly with ‘the singularity’ in mind that our team created Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate last year which emphasizes a balance among scholarship, citizenship, and emotional intelligence.  Make no mistake, machines will excel in most of the areas that are articulated in the Portrait, however, developing interpersonal skills and other EQ skills will become more and more important as the singularity approaches. Indeed, compassion and empathy, along with the ability to interact with each other ethically, will not only be critical to our relationships with other humans, it will be essential to our “relationships” with machines. I believe that we have a vested interest in ensuring that computers have heart!  For without compassion for beings that are less “intelligent” than they are, where is the incentive for them to want to keep us around? This may sound a bit far-fetched, but if one really thinks through the implications of a machine being a billion times smarter than a human, it begins to make sense. This is why interpersonal skills will be vital to humankind in the years ahead.

 

The 2020 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report identified leadership, flexibility, emotional intelligence, reasoning, persuasion, and negotiation as skills that are among the most valuable of the future. These interpersonal skills are actively fostered at Roycemore through a curriculum that emphasizes social-emotional development as well as academic development.  When purely academic or technological skills are emphasized without balancing the social-emotional skills, we run the risk of raising young people who lack empathy and who are disconnected from their fellow human beings.  Upper School history teacher and learning specialist, Karen Byrnes, who is one of our school’s longest-tenured teachers at 29 years, says “Roycemore does a great job in this small setting of helping teach, support, and improve students’ skills to compassionately speak with each other.  The student learns the most appropriate way to communicate with whomever they interact with.  When needed, we spend time teaching and modeling these skills, and other times we help refine them.”

 

The ability to work well in teams is another important interpersonal skill.  In order to truly innovate and advance as a society, collaboration is required.  These skills go beyond the traditional ‘group project.’ Students need to learn how to collaborate effectively for the best results.  This includes learning critical feedback skills that allow them to disagree with and be critical of one another’s opinions or work, and still solve problems together.  Students also learn how to be good listeners, how to persuade, and how to negotiate while also being honest and ethical. Clearly, these skills will be valued by future employers, however they will also lend to healthier relationships with friends and family.

 

Developing these skills begins at a young age.  In Early Childhood, students learn how to greet classmates and adults they know as well as individuals they are meeting for the first time.  They role-play conversation starters and gestures.  Students learn to count to “three inside their heads before responding to show someone who is telling a story or talking that they are truly listening,” says Junior Kindergarten teacher, Susie Massey.  “We practice noticing eye color which encourages eye contact and being present.”

 

Through the Leader in Me program (7 Habits) students learn the approach of “win-win”, or how to find a mutually agreeable result to a disagreement.  This is an early introduction to negotiation, persuasion and influencing skills.  Daily mindfulness practice also helps center students so that they can be in touch with their own feelings.  Being present for others begins with being present for yourself.  This work may look different depending on whether it is in Early Childhood or Upper School, but consistent attention to it makes a difference. “Integrating ideas of respect and care for others in all that we do creates a classroom culture that aims to make sure that all are included and that everyone feels like a valued member of the class,” says Middle School science teacher, Andy Mahlan.

 

As an intentionally small school, Roycemore provides an environment where students are well known by their peers and teachers alike.  That helps to create a safe space for students to hear different perspectives and consider the views of others.  “In this way, they can build their interpersonal skills through compromise and conciliation,” says Dr. John Trowbridge, International Family Liaison and Upper School teacher.  It also provides opportunities for students to be vulnerable.  University of Huston Professor Brene Brown claims “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” and it is in this realm that humans have the upper hand to machines.

 

Clearly, this is a complex, challenging, and perplexing time for humanity.  At the same time, it is also exciting to consider how humans and machines might be able to partner in entirely new ways to solve the wicked problems our society is grappling with.  By emphasizing the development of interpersonal skills in our young people through robust curricula and experiences, we are providing them with powerful tools to thrive in a future where machines are smarter than they are.

 

In partnership for the education of your students,

Adrianne Finley Odell

Head of School