Lifelong Learning in 2040

By Jacqueline Smith, Michael Meaney |

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The rapid rate of continuous technological progress will require a reconceptualization of why and how we learn. The profusion of technology into every aspect of modern life is fundamentally changing the nature of the American economy and the ways in which humans contribute to economic output. Acclaimed futurist and Google engineer Ray Kurzweil expects the rate of technological progress to advance so rapidly that by 2030, a thousand dollars of computer power will be a thousand times more powerful than a human brain. By 2040, this will contribute to radical innovations in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics that will transform health care, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and computer science. Some believe these innovations could render the human contribution to the labor force as we know it obsolete.

A more likely scenario, however, is that technological progress will continue to raise the wage premium for education. Analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that this wage premium will continue to exacerbate economic inequality unless 20 million more Americans receive a college education over the next 20 years. The U.S. is only on pace to produce 8 million new graduates in that time. In this brief, part of the Next American Economy Learning Series, we ask how we can ensure that millions more Americans will succeed in the next American economy.

Jacqueline Smith currently serves as assistant vice president of University Initiatives at Arizona State University, where she launches university-wide initiatives that support Arizona State University’s charter and design aspirations.

Michael Meaney is currently pursuing a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.