Computational Thinking: Empowering Workers to Reshape Their World
By James M. Fraleigh
Over the next decade, workplace automation will progress well beyond car-building robots. Robotics technology will be applied to logistics and supply chain management, and farms will integrate weather forecasts and GPS monitoring while tracking food from seed to table. Even social and political phenomena, like city planning and civic participation, will draw on automated data gathering from citizens, agencies, and even power grids and mass transit systems.
Public and private organizations will have all the data required for efficient delivery of goods and services. However, they will need skilled individuals to give this information meaning and context. Computational thinking—the ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning—will be an important factor in recruiting workers ready to apply judgment and logic to digital systems and their output. Future Work Skills 2020, a report by Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute, identifies computational thinking as one of 10 key proficiencies required for workplace success during the next decade.
Using computational thinking, workers will learn to gauge the accuracy of data before creating real-world models that rely on it, while understanding that no simulation can exactly reproduce the present or predict the future. They will use beginner-friendly programming tools to extract value from the information they gather, and even design smartphone apps on the fly to allow all users in an organization to collect and make their own judgments about data. In this way, automated systems will become less mysterious and more customizable, replacing proprietary processes with democratic, open-source tools.
As the ability to connect automated systems becomes more widespread, a broader range of institutions and experiences will be programmable. People who can program automated mass transit to interact safely with cars and commercial vehicles will be in demand, as self-driving vehicles become more practical. City planners with the ability to think in terms of holistic processes will help foster the creation of smart cities, in which building-level sensors will allow whole neighborhoods to be measured and monitored for quality of municipal services, emergency response needs, and power-grid status.
If something can be measured, it can be managed. By understanding how best to interpret our world, workers who master computational thinking will be the catalyst that turns the wealth of data that automated systems collect into economic and societal benefits for all.
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James M. Fraleigh writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.