Cut the crap, we are in danger of losing Jamaica

flagLet me begin by paying my condolences to the family of the late Suzanne Couch — musician, composer, singer, and chef extraordinaire — her husband, Peter; daughter, Sara; and her family, also the O’Connor and Espeut families.

Her passing leaves such a void in all of our lives, as she was really a person who embraced life with such a force that really showed us a talented, loving, and caring, friend, someone who fought every step of her journey, and in latter times sought to overcome her illness in such an inspiring way.

Sue was such a dynamo that even in my own sadness I take the opportunity to advise St. Peter to fly the gate as she is still at maximum speed with no brakes. Also, to those gone before, please be assured that milk and honey diets will be profoundly interrupted by gourmet food when she arrives in Heaven’s kitchen. We will miss her, but our memories will not always be sad, we have been so privileged to have such a generous and caring friend. Sleep well, dearest Sue. Forever loved.

Over the past two years I have been paying attention to the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI), as this has become a reality after the comic books of the 1950s to present. What was science fiction (like Jules Verne’s submarine) is becoming reality, and AI is advancing every day. The old movies have portrayed themes that depict the takeover of humanity by robots, wars between the robots and humans, and the elimination of human dominance.

This started with simple assembly tools that were automated and could only do single repetitive tasks. These were preprogrammed for those functions and robots operated in environments separated from humans. Then came more sophisticated operations like fully automated production lines with less separation from humans. We are now approaching the age of cobots (collaboration with humans) where they work with us. Soon you will be able to marry one and that will be a new dilemma for many religions.

As more robots become intelligent, simple needs start to shift from the need for food (humans) to electricity and power sources (robots). So in a future world dominated by independent AI the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter are subjugated, and the inevitable final destruction is played out. The Four Robots of the Apocalypse, and the end of days.

Well, with that futuristic stuff said, we need to move to the reality of Jamaican education, and its ability to transform radically rather than incrementally. Just this week a study suggested that our rate of those passing 5 or more CSEC (including English and Mathematics) was falling and was now under 20%. This is not a recipe for success in a world moving towards AI, and cannot even secure a future for us manufacturing and programming robots.

We are firmly at the bottom of the educational pile (and in an uncaring world ruled by robots and cyborgs we lead the extinction lineup). We will be kept for menial tasks, breeding or entertainment purposes, and will not be a part of the rewards programmes. We are living dangerously (as the song says) and the clowns capering in sawdust rings (Book of Rules) will be us.

What do we do for these kids, who can’t speak English, Spanish, French or Mandarin; who cannot give change without a calculator; who have no understanding of world events except what they are fed on social media; who cannot pinpoint India on a classroom map of the world? This is tragic, and many of them are holders of tertiary degrees. So sad but true, and a clear and present danger.

The problem also becomes more complex when we have lowered standards over the decades and the teachers of today are themselves victims of the past, and many do not have the base that would enable them to pull themselves up. This is not the fault of the teachers and is a reflection of a society that is steadily losing language skills, computational skills, reading and writing skills, logic, and lowered values of integrity. It is a downward spiral-like a helicopter without a rotor blade.

What extreme methods should this country take to transform over two million people from below mediocrity, to state-of-the-art and able to compete in a global world where low skilled jobs are being replaced by AI? The objective is very tough but it must be accomplished.

To have young men on the corner doing mathematics and engineering in a disciplined manner instead of rolling a spliff is a start. The young women of 21 already having 4 children (and more to come) becoming interpreters and programmers available for work across the world.

Yes it is tough, but the “lumpen proletariat” must be guided down the new road, and we must find ways to measure and accelerate their progress as the future of Jamaica is inextricably tied to a growth with equity strategy. But there is no equity for the illiterate and unskilled at this time. This is not a sugar plantation, and we are not the British plantocracy of old.

Furthermore, we have no Motherland to remit our spoils to as we probably can’t get past Know your Customer, and other fit and proper regulations to have a significant bank account. We are trapped in a small space of our own doing, with only a few having an ability to abandon ship.

So cut the crap and the diplomatic/political rhetoric that are taking us nowhere. We are in danger of losing Jamaica, and despite the niceties, “the revolution will not be televised”.

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