The WelderDestiny Compass

The Answer is 42 - Issue #011

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste

In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":

  • The Answer is 42
  • Google Already Has All the Answers
  • No Child (or Adult) Left Behind
  • Welders Ahead of the Curve

The Answer is 42

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book by Douglas Adams, the ultimate question was posed to an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought. The question was: "What is the answer to life, the universe and everything".

Deep Thought computed away for 7.5 million years and came up with the answer: 42. So, there you have it folks, the answer to the ultimate question is 42! 

The problem is that nobody really understood the question. In the book, they needed to wait another 7.5 million years for the computer to tell them what the REAL question is. 

In today's The WelderDestiny Compass we explore what human jobs will look like in an age when the machines already have all the answers! Once we come to a conclusion, we explore what the knock-on effect will be on education and ultimately on the Welder.

If you would like to add your ideas to this week’s discussion, then please send me an e-mail with your ideas, (Send your e-mails to: or complete the comment form on the page below.

Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...

Google Already Has All the Answers

I use the amusing anecdote (well I find it amusing!) from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, because it is really a parody of what jobs in the machine age will be about. We already have "deep thought", and deep thought will only get more powerful in the future. Just about any answer we are looking for can be found by asking deep thought.

Now, in our world "deep thought" is not a single computer, but it is the ability to find just about any answer you want by asking it to platforms like Google. Google already has all the answers! Well, maybe not all the answers, but it certainly knows a hell of a lot more than you or I or any other single individual, because it is the embodiment of knowledge aggregation. 

In my early years as an engineer, before the internet, when we wanted to find answers to questions we needed to look for it in books, or journal articles, or from a really clued up person, or develop it ourselves by doing expensive research and experimentation. Now we ask Google! 

In the good old days, the really good engineers were the guys that had all the answers in their head. You could just go to them, and they would give you a pretty good answer, without having to do the research. The really good engineers were the smart people. 

Now you can get the answers from Google within the time it would take to walk over to the smart engineer's desk! Not only will you get a single answer to your question, but there will be a number of different answers that may be better suited to your specific situation. 

We all know that knowledge is power, but in the machine age we all have access to the knowledge. Not only do we have access to the knowledge, but the machines also have access to the knowledge. Remember that when we are asking Google, we are getting the answers from a machine. 

Once the machines get smart enough to be able to access the information themselves, then people who only have an edge due to their "knowledge" will have no edge at all. If your job is only about knowledge, then you are in a job that will be done better by a machine in the not so distant future. Artificial intelligence (AI) will replace you in your job. 

This sounds rather depressing, because not only will machines take over physically repetitive work (e.g. production lines) but they will also take over knowledge based jobs. So, what will the future human job look like?

In the machine age, human jobs are those that require skills that machines are not so good at, or that machines cannot perform economically. One of the primary skills that you will need in a human job of the future is problem solving. In other words, the primary skill is knowing what the right questions are.

Once we can figure out what the right questions are, then we can rely on the machines to give us the answers. That is what they are good at. That is why a human teamed up with an AI will be the way of the future.

No Child (or Adult) Left Behind

As kids in school we had to learn the facts that the teacher was trying to get into our heads. The kids that were seen as the smart one's were able to provide the right answers to the teacher's questions. To get "the brownie points", you had to be able to supply someone else's answer to a "canned" question. Notice how this does not seem like a good idea given our discussion of what skills you will need in the machine age. 

Things were a little better when I went to university, but not much! If you liked a course, you would apply yourself, but often you just did the course to get the necessary credits. It was a means to an end, rather than being the end in itself. 

The usual way to pass exams for these less favoured courses was therefore to do as little as possible during the term, and then cram for the exams. While this allowed me to pass the exams, I can't claim to actually remember too much about those courses. Luckily for me, it has become much less important to remember the facts, because I can just Google them! 

If we think about it, we see that kids from the earliest age are on a constant learning curve. So, how do kids learn before we send them off to joint the school and college system? I ask, because this is a time in their lives when they seem to learn the most, without much effort from those around them. There is no curriculum, trained teachers or exams. They just seem to pick it up all by themselves, with only minor inputs from those pesky adults. 

The answer is that they learn in a self-directed fashion because they have some need for enquiry that was stimulated. They do this while having fun in the process. Their learning is self-directed, because they learn those things that are needed to solve a problem in their lives. 

If you are lying around on the floor and you want to get to that very interesting looking Ming vase that your mother has precariously perched on a coffee table, then you need to learn to crawl. 

Once you can crawl, but you are still too low to reach that interesting Ming vase, then you need to learn to stand. When your mother takes that very interesting Ming vase away, you understand that you could probably get to things a lot faster if you walked like she does. Then you can probably get to the Ming vase before your mother has time to remove it. 

Something else that is obvious in this "real world" learning situation, is that you need to learn one thing before you move to the next level. You cannot run before you can walk. You cannot write poetry before you can read. One skill is dependent on another.

Self-directed learning of things that you find interesting, and having fun doing this, seems like a dream situation. Unfortunately it also seems like a pipedream, because it is not possible for each school kid and each college student to have their own teacher to customise their courses and constantly look over their shoulder while they are learning. This is certainly the case at the moment, but what happens when artificial intelligence (AI) enters education?

Once AI enters education, true outcomes based education, true self-directed learning and individually customised "courses" become possible. Not only will the AI guide you through the problem solving process, and provide the basis for your self-directed learning efforts, it will also make sure that you have mastered all the skills necessary before moving to the next level. Not only will the education process be self-directed, but the pace of education as well, because we do not all learn at the same pace.

AI will make sure that no child is left behind! Well, actually AI will make sure that no adult is left behind either, when we are talking adult education. Adult education will become a much bigger industry than that for kids.

The AI supported education paradigm will ensure that the emphasis is on learning skills, rather than learning facts. Obviously skills are underpinned by facts, therefore the learning of facts will never end, but once you have the necessary facts to apply the skills required, then further learning (and remembering) of facts is not that necessary.

If you get a kick out of learning facts, then nothing will stand in your way, but once you have enough facts to allow you to know what the right questions are, then the rest of the facts can be provided by the machines "on-the-fly".

Due to the rapid advancement of technology and knowledge, what you know today may not be valid by next year this time. Such knowledge should therefore be seen as transient in any case. Constant learning is therefore also "baked into the equation" of the machine age.

Welders Ahead of the Curve

Some people operate quite well in a more formal educational setting. Some people seem to only learn in an experiential setting. "Book learning" is just not for them. 

Because welding is a skill based profession, many Welders are already on a "self-directed" learning curve. While some Welders do a formal apprenticeship which would include formal classes and written exams, many Welders have no such formal qualifications. They learn practical welding and then pick up the rest of the knowledge they need, by asking other people, or doing short courses or doing their own enquiries. Like reading WelderDestiny! 

Strictly speaking, someone could become a decent welder by just following YouTube videos, practicing welding and reading information available on websites like WelderDestiny. This would however be an unusual situation. A much more common situation is when people become Welders by attending practical welding classes, and then learning the more theoretical aspects in an informal setting. 

In this self-directed educational aspect, Welders are ahead of the curve when it comes to learning. The aspect where they are probably not getting enough exposure, is in furthering their education to be able to make the most of the new machine age. In this regard we need to get moving before the arrival of AI, so there is no time to waste! 

Below I list some typical skills and knowledge that I believe a Welder will need in the future: 

  • Problem solving skills. Everyone will need this. 
  • Practical welding skills. Only possible with actual welding, but augmented reality system in the future will enable almost anybody to get a great deal of their practical training in a "non-industrial" environment. Actual real welding will however always be necessary. 
  • Knowledge about how the world works on a statistical level. Not only will this help you to solve problems, but it will help you understand how to make sense of all the data out there. In the future we will all be miners. - Data miners. While our AI's will do the heavy lifting, you will in all probability come to the wrong conclusions if you do not understand the basic precepts of statistics. You don't need to be a statistician, you just need to understand the basics. Let the machines attend to the details. 
  • Knowledge about the basis of relevant technologies, so that you know how they can be used to solve problems, and what their limitations are. Typical technologies would be electrical and power source technology, ultrasonic testing technology, materials technology, mechanical design basics, computer programming basics and fabrication codes. 
  • People skills. You need to know how to understand people's problems, because solving people's problems will become your central role. 
  • Systems thinking. No problems exist in isolation. They are all part of a system. A good solution can only be found within the context of the wider system. 
  • Understanding the theory of knowledge. With knowledge rapidly changing and being superseded, you need to understand what constitutes data, information, facts and theories.

I am sure that there are many more skills and knowledge that will make you a better Welder in the machine age, but the list above is a good starting point for the future. 

Here at WelderDestiny we are committed to equipping you, the Welder, with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the new era.

Yours in welding

Niekie Jooste

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