5 generations coming to terms with their role in learning
As return readers will know, we are exploring the longer term consequence of the generative AI frenzy. Read about other scenarios here.
What follows are words of fiction, not fact. They contain stark and unscientific generalizations, all in service of an end state we need to consider …
… as a thought experiment.
Boomers (b. 1946-1964)
It all started with the (baby) boomers. In love with learning, and in love with decades of growth, they correlated the two, nay, they equated it. Data showed they were right. Over the decades they built Ivy league schools, the “elite” academic brand, the ticket-to-upper-class path, creating a nation where alternate modes of learning are all but extinct. Driving up cost, driving up enrollment, and driving up competition are their legacy, and so are unprecedented scientific breakthroughs, Nobel prizes, and glory.
Without them, AI might never have gotten started.
There seemed to be no limit.
GenX (b.1965-1980; full disclosure - I am one of these)
Yet, this bubble has popped for GenX. Yes, they succeeded with good schooling, but this age group does not know hardship. Having created the technology we enjoy today, they correlate knowledge with innovation, and innovation with success, no matter the consequence.
In 2023 , these are the ruling class of academia. 2023 is also the most consequential year in the history of knowledge work. AI came almost too late for GenX and Large Language Models, a cudgel of an instrument, with pointy chat and inference spikes has laid siege on knowledge work.
Entry tests, knowledge exams, the personal essay, have all been rendered meaningless. We (humans) can no longer measure knowledge. Consequently, the knowledge-innovation-success house of cards is without foundation.
It all seems so unfair … after all … it is innovation that flipped the outcome, it’s a Gödel machine proving Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.
There appears to be only one way out: scrap the academic brands, disbandon campuses, re-form in new collectives. Commercial real estate needs a new purpose anyway. But are we too old? If not now, when? If not this, what? If not us, who?
Millennials (b. 1981-1996)
The grand-masters of technology, the Wolves of Wall Street, nascent captains of industry. Now, their institutions and academic livelihoods are under siege. They have long made the choice, not just for avocado toast, but they have left academia behind, despite the fact that it was their springboard for personal success. After all, they had been promised that they will do better than the generations that came before. And millennials might very well be the last ones to benefit from this generational contract.
Did millennials seize the moment?
Missing the grander purpose, the most successful millennials build bunkers in New Zealand, because, some time in the ‘10s, it became apparent that the promise won’t last. And if they cannot pay it forward, they had better enjoy their time while they still can.
GenZ (b. 1997-2012)
Deeply suspicious of millennials, this broken generation has been thrust into teeth-gnashing despair. “Fridays for Futures” was the beginning of an awakening, Greta voiced the tip of her generation’s iceberg of burden.
Climate extremes keep getting more extreme. Pandemics, social media addiction and war in Europe pummeled these souls during their coming of age, and now, in the depth of their malaise, AI is taking all their aspirations away. Caught in the twilight zone when the technology appears darkest, and has not shown any benefit, GenZers all but give up.
Their number one use of AI: seeking counsel and comfort with their own not-so-Scarlett-Johannson-voiced “her”s, “him”s and “them”s.
Alpha (b. 2013-2024)
The story is different for these kids, the generation defined by Roblox, TikTok and Minecraft. Alphas feel saturated with power, AI emerges in their teenage years. And yet, they feel the burden of all that has led to their generation, and they answer that deep-seated call of wanting to right old wrongs. And they have old people ready to team up. GenX has nothing to lose, and Alphas have everything to gain.
And so they form an inter-generational pact, with GenX academics. They restart from open-source ideas, and re-imagine the algorithms so they are truly for the good of mankind. They work in SOLEs (self-organizing learning environments). Modeling-as-a-service and Inferencing-as-a-service are truly meant as a service.
Alphas and GenXers fill the ranks of the collectives, the offices in unused commercial real estate towers, they learn, share, remake, and their incentive is not money, they are in it for humanity. Edu-preneurship as a model takes the world by storm, staying local, loyal, quirky, meaningful and impactful .
The world of academia is no more. A new kind of entity, the collective, is inclusive of all species and races, of theorists and practitioners alike.
They edu-preneurship approach has different incentives: Members work not for profit but for learning, and they succeed.
They wrestle AI to the ground, makes it “accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal“ (*).
(*) From https://futureoflife.org/open-letter/pause-giant-ai-experiments/