Fallout CASS Wenja

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The youth of today exhibit a constant worry about the future of the labor market and the digital workforce that they will be entering, and with good reason, for we are witnessing stark changes brought about by AI, robotics, and other technologies advancing at breakneck speed. The economy of the future is one that leaves bewildering permutations open, and so as an economist, I am asked by the youth about what skills they should invest in to “future-proof” themselves and be ready for the decades ahead. What skills? Programming? Coding? Prompts? Certainly these are useful today, but I don’t answer the young with high-tech recommendations. Instead, I tell the youth that the same skills they will require tomorrow are the very same ones that were used by our ancestors 10,000 years ago. They may raise eyebrows until I explain the three skills for the future economy that they will certainly require:  problem-solving mindset, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. 

These three skills were used continually by our ancestors, and they are the reason that we as a species have survived unto today. To illustrate the case, I draw their attention to Far Cry: Primal, something many youth are familiar with, and which depicts the Wenja tribe and its hunter-gatherer life in a Eurasian valley circa 8,000 BC. Although fictional, the story is extremely well researched in terms of anthropology, sociology,  linguistics (even reconstructing a proto-proto-Indo-European that would be the ultimate ancestor of both Urdu and English), and economics (stone-age economy). In my reading, the Wenja demonstrate core skills that enable them to survive and thrive in difficult circumstances including resource-competition (flora and fauna reduction), technological disruptions (fire),  hostile neighbors, and climate change (late ice-age thaw). The Wenja display: problem-solving mindset, awareness of the terrain, and emotional intelligence. These skills, while showcased in the context of a game, mirror the capabilities our ancestors relied upon to overcome the challenges of their time. As we look towards the future, it’s becoming increasingly clear that these same skills, honed over millennia, are precisely what we need to steer through the complexities of the modern world.

Problem-solving mindset: Our ancestors consistently drew upon a problem-solving mindset to deal with a changing and complex environment. Problem-solving has always been a cornerstone of human survival, and facing the perils of a wild and unforgiving landscape, our ancestors relied on their ability to solve immediate problems—securing food, shelter, and safety from predators and rival tribes. They also had strong consultative mechanisms for a large number of participants to achieve agreement and delegate responsibilities. When water levels rose, they built primitive dams and bridges. When fauna migrated, they not only followed but sought to guide animal migration patterns. When hostile tribes approached, they employed a variety of diplomatic tools to pacify them, and at times resorted to warfare. Fast forward to the future, and we find that problem-solving remains just as critical, albeit in a different context. Today, we grapple with how to integrate AI into our societies, mitigate the environmental impact of technological advancement, and navigate the ethical dilemmas posed by biotechnology. The essence of problem-solving remains unchanged: identifying challenges and devising effective solutions. As we encounter new problems posed by our advancing technological landscape, the problem-solving prowess that propelled our ancestors will be invaluable.

Critical thinking:  the second pillar of critical thinking enabled our ancestors to make informed decisions that shaped their survival and social structures. The ability to analyze situations, question conventional wisdom, and foresee the consequences of actions was crucial in a world where every decision could mean the difference between life and death. In the era of the Wenja, critical thinking determined the best hunting grounds, the timing of migrations, and alliances with or against neighboring tribes. Although their power to explain the world, stymied by superstitious lexicon, would be vastly dwarfed by our modern scientific methods and tools, our ancestors would still undertake critical appraisals of their environment, use inductive and deductive thinking, and maintain an acute awareness of the forces shaping the environment. In other words, even if the language they employed was peppered with a vocabulary of superstition (spirits, curses, vials, beasts), the underlying attitude was one of a detailed and critical appraisal of real-time events with an iterative enrichment of their working knowledge. Looking ahead, critical thinking will be paramount as we sift through the deluge of information and misinformation in the digital age. With AI and algorithms influencing much of our media consumption, the capacity to critically evaluate sources, data, and even the biases of AI itself will be essential in making informed decisions about our lives and societies. The ability to see two steps ahead vis-à-vis the path-dependency, utility, and exploitable weaknesses of technological advancements will still lend the cutting edge to individuals in the digital economy as it did well into the past.

Emotional intelligence: often overlooked in discussions of survival skills, emotional intelligence (EQ) was perhaps the most sophisticated tool in our ancestors’ repertoire. The ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions facilitated social cohesion, leadership, and collaboration—factors that were as vital to the success of prehistoric communities as they are to modern teams and organizations in the digital economy. For the Wenja, emotional intelligence would be key in negotiating social hierarchies, resolving conflicts, and maintaining morale. As remote work becomes the norm and our interactions with AI increase, emotional intelligence will be critical in building and maintaining relationships, leading empathetically, and ensuring that technology serves to enhance, rather than diminish, human well-being. Furthermore, individuals are consistently downplaying their central role in the age of AI: as the ultimate arbiters of value. Even the most advanced GPTs (say, a hypothetical ChatGPTx100), will simply provide outputs drawn from oceans of data parameters. But how much of that will actually be of value? Humans will decide. No software can ever be the ultimate arbiter of value in a society or an economy of humans.

As we stand on the threshold of a future shaped by unprecedented technological and social change, it’s tempting to look forward with a sense of apprehension. Yet, history provides us with a mirror reflecting not only where we’ve been but also the enduring strengths that have carried us through the ages. The skills that served our ancestors in the prehistoric world—problem-solving, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence—are the very skills that will enable us to navigate the future with confidence and resilience. Therefore, to the younger generation seeking guidance on preparing for the challenges ahead, I offer this advice: embrace the timeless skills that have underpinned human progress. My answer is thus encapsulated by the Chinese proverb “以史為鑑” – “history is the mirror to the future.” As we innovate and adapt, let us not forget the lessons of the past, for in them we find the keys to our future.

Dr Usman W. Chohan is Advisor (Economic Affairs and National Development) at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@casstt.com .  

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