Educating Humans for the Robot Age

by David and Maxine Jaffa


We are on the cusp of the Robot Age and many of us are, understandably, terrified.


Jobs and skills that we sacrificed so much time and money to get are no longer “safe”. Automation, outsourcing and globalization are already taking away money that was once paid to humans – local humans at that.


It’s not just low-skill, low-pay jobs that are effected. High-skill jobs can become low-pay as well. In our business we recently commissioned a design job to 99Designs. 99Designs sets hundreds of thousands of designers from all over the world against each other to compete for low paid design jobs. In Forbes magazine, Richard Grefe of the American Institute of Graphic Design Designers “scoffs ‘It's a pricing structure that does not relate to value’."


Is it all just doom and gloom for our education and work?

We founded the Jaffa Foundation because we believe the future presents many more opportunities than challenges. As a technology entrepreneur, David has seen this commoditisation of certain skill-sets. But what we’ve also seen is that certain skills, character traits and behaviours are inherently difficult to commoditise. This was true for both Maxine and David’s grandparents, who were impoverished political refugees on opposite sides of the globe. It is true for our own children - who we’re guiding towards these stronger ‘bets’. Importantly, the areas that are less subject to commoditisation are also those that will create wealth for society at large, particularly in first world countries.

David's grandparents were in the rag trade in London's East End


So it’s exciting that the right leadership advice for individuals also seems to be right for the whole education system. These “robot proof areas are worthy of public investment and should form part of a ‘quality’ education, particularly at Secondary, Further and Higher Education. 


David’s grandparents’ shop on Artillery Passage


Part of our work in the Jaffa Foundation will be to get into the specifics and develop a curriculum for wealth and wellness that can be shared with everyone. It’s a perfect time to be doing this because the goal is no longer to help disadvantaged youth get the same skills as privileged youth. The privileged youth are also starving for the right skills. ALL young people need to become “robot proof” in order to achieve economic empowerment.


Maxine’s grandfather in his shop in Germiston, South Africa


In the case of both of our grandparents, they came from poor villages and had to flee persecution in Lithuania and Russia in the Second World War. It was an appalling situation, but they were less reliant than their contemporaries who were on traditional routes to success. There is a Yiddush word called “chutzpah” which roughly translated means “audacity” or fearlessness. Our grandparents were able to use this chutzpah and resilience and, in both cases, leapfrogged 'advantaged' youngsters.


This is why we are passionate about the right mind-set. It’s one of the main ingredients of success. As leaders in the education system, it is our responsibility to encourage leaders to tell young people, ESPECIALLY those from disadvantaged backgrounds, that they have just as much right to be successful as anybody else and if they feel they have certain disadvantages, they just need to try twice as hard. We live at a time of unparalleled opportunity. 


As leaders in education, we feel a personal responsibility to lead young people in a direction that is good for them. As parents we are careful not to tell our kids what they can't do or aren't capable of, and we feel that there is no reason this shouldn’t be true for all youth. We want to inspire them to believe in themselves so they can achieve great things, direct them to where the opportunities are and teach them how to differentiate themselves in a globalising economy. That is how education can support wealth-creation by individuals; and how society itself will stretch and grow. 


Write a comment

Comments: 7
  • #1

    Michelle Fourie (Saturday, 21 April 2018 14:54)

    I've heard the phrase, "teaching for jobs that don't yet exist".
    That vision is what I feel educators and parents need to bear in mind, when expose our kids to new skills and guiding them to creative thought.

  • #2

    Maxine Jaffa (Saturday, 21 April 2018 20:10)

    Michelle - my primary school teacher ❤️ you are such a wonderful educator. So true what you say, and thank you for being exactly that kind of educator to me x

  • #3

    Judy Klipin (Sunday, 22 April 2018 08:03)

    Thank you both for this blog. While the robot revolution is terrifying it is also, as you point out, an enormous opportunity to level the social and economic (yes, I purposely didn’t write socio-economic) playing fields and create an environment that demands equality! I’d love to help any way you think I could.

  • #4

    David Jaffa (Sunday, 22 April 2018 18:33)

    Thank you Judy!

    I'm glad you separated out the economics, which we find a really useful lens to look at this issue. We will be saying much more about this in future posts. The future of particular technologies is unpredictable, as is the future of particular product categories and industries. But the economics are a whole lot clearer.

    If we are going to make good decisions about the future of education and give good career advice to young people, we need to focus on aspects of the future we can predict with confidence. And we believe the economic lens gives us clear direction on that. And, of course, this provides a WONDERFUL opportunity to make the playing field more equitable for everyone.

    Thank you for being part of the conversation and offering to help! Let's chat more!


  • #5

    Matt Saunders (Sunday, 22 April 2018 19:36)

    Hi Max, I really enjoyed your post on technology and jobs. In 1930, Keynes wrote of technological unemployment of the day and took a very interesting long view: "...for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well." Very different take but made me think: http://www.econ.yale.edu/smith/econ116a/keynes1.pdf Don't usually find myself quoting Keynes but this made me think when I read this

  • #6

    David Jaffa (Thursday, 26 April 2018 11:02)


    This is a wonderful article by Keynes. Thank you for sharing it. I hadn't seen this before, but it very much supports our way of thinking. I have read material by Alan Greenspan and Warren Buffett that (now that I've seen this), I'm guessing THEY got from Keynes. They very much support Keynes' key conclusion that MASSIVE growth in wealth in first world is EXTREMELY predictable (inevitable pretty much) on timescales of decades; as opposed to the economic cycle, which is on an unpredictable timescale (5-12 years-ish?).

    A number of future blog posts will be dedicated to the implications of this and the related idea that while future technology developments and future product and market categories (and hence aspects of employment) are unpredictable; that other aspects of the future workplace are HIGHLY predicable and provide tremendous guidance as to how we should be educating young people now for the age of robots to come.

    Commoditisation of skills is real; but is only one side of the coin. The opportunities are much greater than the threats; as was the case when Keynes wrote his article in 1930 and was also the case during the earlier transition from agriculture to industry. People who try to stick to with the earlier model are at risk of being left behind. But those who prepare for the future have a bright future indeed.

    Watch this space!


  • #7

    Sinéad Devine (Thursday, 03 May 2018 10:50)

    Thank you David and Maxine, a really interesting article and refreshing to hear thoughts on how we need to change the way we are teaching children. At Positive we are very keen to build more into school curriculums about human connection, cognitive flexibility and creativity/innovation - the skills that AI will find very difficult to replicate. Look forward to future discussion on the topic.

    Best Wishes