I have written a few posts about education. But I’d not seen this presentation by Conrad Wolfram – brother of someone who may be one of the intellectual giants of our time – Stephen. (Since Stephen is a good deal older – born in 1959 with Conrad born in 1970 – perhaps one might call Conrad “Wolfram Beta”, but I digress).
Anyway, Conrad’s TED talk is very well worth watching. His case is simple and compelling. I couldn’t agree more. It’s kind of tantalising, frustrating to have something so obvious within our intellectual grasp and yet to be so far off in terms of realisation, so far off because the workplace is a mass of routines. Even small routines can be difficult to break but usually they come in numbers which form a thicket which somehow kills off its enemies which die the death of a thousand cuts.
For those of you who don’t want to watch the video – I sympathise – after all you could read the words, jumping in and out at points of greater and less interest in a fraction of the time. If that’s you, you can read the words here. Even better, I’ll summarise the basic message which is pretty straightforward.
Maths, Wolfram argues consists of four steps.
And as Wolfram says:
Here’s the funny thing. We insist that the entire population learns how to do step 3 by hand. Perhaps 80% of doing math education at school is step 3 by hand and largely not doing steps 1, 2, and 4. And yet step 3 is the step that computers can do vastly better than any human at this point, so it’s kind of bizarre that that’s the way around we’re doing things. Instead, I think we should be using computers to do step 3 and we should be using students to do steps 1, 2, and 4 to a much greater extent than we are.
Remarkably like the teaching of economics too – though it focuses on both calculation and model building, but only in passing on 1 and 2 and just a bit on 4.