Book Notes: Average is Over by Tyler Cowen

Overall rating: 6/10

General Thoughts:

"Average is Over" for most Americans. Tyler Cowen, author of the book, Average is Over, makes the case that people/workers will increasingly be separated into a small, hyper-valuable upper class and a growing, stagnant lower working class.

I took Tyler’s concepts and applied them to the likely readers of this article. If you think you are immune to competition because of your fancy degree or high paying position, you are slowly starting your demise.

Competition is unrelenting and those who sit around waiting for things to happen will be run over by technological change and better competition. Americans will continue to divide into two classes. But it's not just the wealthy vs. the poor; it’s the self-educated individuals vs. the passive class of Americans who expect the government, corporations, or their families to support and ensure their well-being. The quicker you accept the idea that it is your responsibility to educate yourself, the more likely you will thrive in the future. 

Worth reading?

It’s an interesting and motivational read if you are new to the idea of the hyper-competitive labor market. Cowen makes a compelling case why it’s only going to get tougher for workers, not easier. If you need to get motivated, read the book.

If you already understand this, there isn’t much help you direct what you should be doing to compete. He leaves just vague notions of building new skills and leveraging technological and marketing skills for the future. It would be nice to have an actual roadmap of how to do that, but wasn’t necessarily part of his goal for this book.

This article explores 5 ways to rethink your career position and inspire you to go on the offensive by creating rare and valuable skillsets.

My Kindle Notes (some notes may be cut off/incomplete)

This imbalance in technological growth will have some surprising implications. For instance, workers more and more will come to be classified into two categories. The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you? Worst of all, are you competing against the computer? Are computers helping people in China and India compete against you? 76

To put the question in the bluntest possible way, let’s say that machine intelligence helps us make a lot more things more cheaply, as indeed it is doing. Where will most of the benefits go? In accord with economic reasoning, they will go to that which is scarce. In today’s global economy here is what is scarce: 1. Quality land and natural resources 2. Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced 3. Quality labor with unique skills 248

Here is what is not scarce these days: 1. Unskilled labor, as more countries join the global economy 2. Money in the bank or held in government securities, which you can think of as simple capital, not attached to any special ownership rights (we know there is a lot of it because it has been earning zero or negative real rates of return) 252

will be the humans who are adept at working with computers and with related devices for communications and information processing. If a laborer can augment the value of a major tech improvement by even a small bit, she will likely earn well. That means humans with strong math and analytic skills, humans who are comfortable working with computers because they understand their operation, and humans who intuitively grasp how computers can be used for marketing and for other non-techie tasks. 268

Does anyone envy the job prospects of a typical newly minted astronomy PhD? On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame was a psychology major, and insights from psychology helped him make Facebook into a more appealing and alluring site. The ability to mix technical knowledge with solving real-world problems is the key, not sheer number-crunching or programming for its own sake. Number-crunching skills will be turned over to the machines sooner or later. 276

Despite all the talk about STEM fields, I see marketing as the seminal sector for our future economy. 280

Nonetheless, masseuses increasingly market themselves on Google and the internet. These masseuses fit the basic model that favors people who can blend computer expertise with an understanding of how to communicate with other people. Again, it is about blending the cognitive strengths of humans and computers. 284

It sounds a little silly, but making high earners feel better in just about every part of their lives will be a major source of job growth in the future. At some point it is hard to sell more physical stuff to high earners, yet there is usually just a bit more room to make them feel better. Better about the world. Better about themselves. Better about what they have achieved. 293

The more that earnings rise at the upper end of the distribution, the more competition there will be for the attention of the high earners and thus the greater the importance of marketing. 297

But don’t just focus on those computers; it’s also about management. The CEOs and higher-level managers are paid handsomely to assemble and direct the individuals who work every day with mechanized intelligent analysis. If you have an unusual ability to spot, recruit, and direct those who work well with computers, even if you don’t work well with computers yourself, the contemporary world will make you rich. If we look at the increase in the share of income going to the top tenth of a percent from 1979 to 2005, executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals captured 70 percent of those gains. Another development is this: The better the world is at measuring value, the more demanding a lot of career paths will become. That is why I say “Welcome to the hyper-meritocracy” with a touch of irony. Firms and employers and monitors will be able to measure economic value with a sometimes oppressive precision. 321

In any case, the slacker twenty-two-year-old with a BA in English, even from a good school, no longer has such a clear path to an upper-middle-class lifestyle. At the same time, Facebook, Google, and Zynga are now so desperate for talent that they will buy out other companies, not for their products, but rather to keep their employees. It’s easier and cheaper to buy the companies than to try to replicate their recruiting or lure away their best employees. Often the purchased product lines are abandoned. A recent report laid out how these acquisitions work: “‘Engineers are worth half a million to one million,’ said Vaughan Smith, Facebook’s VP of corporate development, who has helped negotiate many of the 20 or so talent acquisitions made by Facebook in the last four years.” The technology blogs call this being “acqhired,” and this practice is being ramped up in what is otherwise a slow job market. It’s not slow for those who work with the intelligent machines. 337

Let’s draw up a simple list of some important characteristics in technologically advanced modern workplaces: 1. Exactness of execution becomes more important relative to an accumulated mass of brute force. 2. Consistent coordination over time is a significant advantage. 414

3. Morale is extremely important to motivate production and cooperation. 417

The days of a lone worker in the field pushing a hoe are over, at least as a way to feed families. Think of the public works projects of the 1930s, such as paving a road. A healthy worker always can add some brute force to the endeavor, for instance by carrying bricks from one place to another on the construction site. The workers don’t have to be brilliant—they require only a minimum of training—and while conscientiousness plays a role, the monitoring and enforcement problems are relatively straightforward, as the workers either carry the bricks or they do not. 421

You might think it’s only Google and a few elite firms moving in this direction—meet a certain grade or you are out—but the practice is spreading to many corners of the job market. For instance, it’s now common that a fire chief has to have a master’s degree. That may sound silly and perhaps you think a master’s degree has not very much to do with putting out fires. Still, often it is desired that a firefighter be trained in emergency medical services, anti-terrorism practices, and fire science (for instance, putting out industrial fires), and there is a demand for firemen who, as they move into leadership roles, can do public speaking, interact with the community, and write grant proposals. A master’s degree is no guarantee of skill in these areas, but suddenly the new requirements don’t sound so crazy anymore. 469

We have been seeing what is called “labor market polarization,” a concept that is most closely identified with MIT labor economist David Autor. Labor market polarization means that workers are, to an increasing degree, falling into two camps. They either do very well in labor markets or they don’t do well at all. It’s hardly the case that America has lost its middle class as of 2013, and I would urge you to stay away from some exaggerated accounts of the middle class having been “decimated,” but looking toward the future the trend is clear: The middle of the distribution is thinning out and this process appears to have a long ways to run. And to be blunt—while I know I can’t prove this—I wonder how much of the middle class consists of people in government or protected service-sector jobs who don’t actually produce nearly as much as their pay. 477

It’s clear: The world is demanding more in the way of credentials, more in the way of ability, and it is passing along most of the higher rewards to a relatively small cognitive elite. After all, the first two categories of earnings winners—namely those with advanced degrees—account for only about 3 percent of the US population. 511

As a general rule, the age structure of achievement is being ratcheted upward due to specialization and the growth of knowledge. Mathematicians used to prove theorems at age twenty, but now it happens at age thirty because there is so much more to learn along the way. If you are a talented twenty-two-year-old, just out of Harvard, you probably cannot walk into a furniture factory and quickly design a better machine. Young people have made fundamental contributions in some of the internet and social networking sectors, precisely because of the immaturity of those sectors. Mark Zuckerberg needed a good grasp of Myspace, but he didn’t have to master decades of previous efforts on online social networks. He was close to starting from scratch. In those cases, young people tend to dominate the sector, but of course that won’t cover the furniture factory. 526

It often sounds like meaningless or bogus clichés to outsiders, but very often the people in the field do not get it or do not think very conceptually about their own operations. It’s not in their training, and in the meantime they have become hyperspecialized in some very particular daily routines, such as mastering how a factory for producing furniture should be run. Every now and then these questions, rooted in general intelligence, pay off and generate a high expected return. The ever so popular management books, which can seem so banal to outside observers, are also attempting to supply critical outside general intelligence. It’s a hard set of conceptual skills to communicate and then turn into practice, and thus the demand for consultants—including young consultants—won’t be disappearing anytime soon. The flow of business and management books will probably never end. 548

But for men, from 1969 to 2009, as measured, it appears that wages for the typical or median male earner have fallen by about 28 percent. I’ve seen attempts to dispute these numbers, but the result remains embarrassing; Brookings Institution researcher Scott Winship, for instance, argues that since 1969 the truth is that male wages have fallen by “only” 9 percent. That’s still a dismal record. Imagine yourself as an economist back in 1969, being asked to predict the course of American male wages over the next forty years or so. You are told that no major asteroid will strike the earth and that there will be no nuclear war. The riots of the 1960s will die out rather than consuming our country in flames. Communism would go away as a major threat and most of the world would reject socialism. Who would have thought that wages for the typical guy were going to fall? It’s a stunning truth. 651

So what happens to laid-off workers, at least those who are still capable of working and willing to work? Whether we like it or not, many of them need to find lower-paying jobs. There are plenty of lower-paying jobs in the world, more than ever before, but here are the rather significant catches: 1. A lot of those jobs are being created overseas. If the job does not require high and complex capital investment, the advantage to keeping that job in the United States is lower. 2. A lot of Americans are not ready to take such jobs, either financially or psychologically. They have been conditioned to expect “jobs in the middle,” precisely the area that is falling away. 3. Through law and regulation, the United States is increasing the cost of hiring, whether it be mandated health benefits, risk of lawsuits, or higher minimum wages. 728

Among the young there is a growing tendency to postpone adulthood, in part because lucrative job opportunities do not beckon. The new crowd of youngsters is sometimes called “Generation Limbo.” They end up living at home for longer, they take freelance and part-time service work—such as in bars or bookstores—or they write part-time for websites. It is less likely that their first or even second jobs will count as potential “careers.” I do not presume the limbo generation consists entirely or even mostly of unhappy individuals. They have freedoms and flexibilities that older generations might have envied, and they have the chance to spend lots of time with friends and family. Sex and parties and good ethnic food seem to be everywhere, if Facebook is any kind of guide. Still, the longer-run job prospects for many of this crop of twentysomethings may not turn out to be so great. 773

Rajlich stresses that humans blunder constantly, that it is hard to be objective, hard to keep concentrating, and hard to calculate a large number of variations with exactness. He is not talking here about the club patzer but rather the top grandmasters: “I am surprised how far they are from perfection.” In earlier times these grandmasters had a kind of aura about them among the chess-viewing public, but in the days of the programs the top grandmasters now command less respect. 1229

At the cognitive level, this unexpected depth is also a disturbing result. It shows that we humans—even at the highest levels of intellect and competition—like to oversimplify matters. We boil things down to our “intuitions” too much. We like pat answers and we take too much care to avoid intellectual chaos. Even if you don’t think those flaws apply to everybody, they seem to apply to some of the most intelligent and analytic people in the human race, especially good chess players. 1291

What does all this mean for our decisions, especially in the workplace? 1. Human strengths and weaknesses are surprisingly regular and predictable. 2. Be skeptical of the elegant and intuitive theory. 3. It’s harder to get outside your own head than you think. 4. Revel in messiness. 5. We can learn. 1295

We see a bias toward regularized systems, rather than ideal systems, in the rise of the Kalashnikov AK-47, the world’s most popular gun. It is not the technologically most advanced weapon, nor the most powerful, but it is easy to shoot, reload, and also fix. Sadly, you can give one to a child and have a working weapon rather quickly (as happens all too often during civil wars around the globe). Microsoft Word, in similar fashion, has succeeded because of ease of use and interchangeability, not because highly informed experts think it is the best software possible. 1383

The Google crutch, if I may call it that, influences how we think and how we learn. There’s now good systematic evidence about how Google changes our mental capacities, and I think most of us have experienced this personally as well. When people use Google more, they lose some of their ability—or at least willingness—to remember facts. After all, why should you keep track of all that stuff? If it is a factual question, the answer probably is right at your fingertips, especially with smart phones and iPads. In similar fashion, it seems that people who manage accounts became less skilled at some memory functions once they obtained cheap paper, writing instruments, accounting books, and other means of keeping track of figures. 1809

The ancient arts of memory, in their most general form, are techniques to improve your mind. These arts were not just about memorization and many of their advocates drew an explicit distinction between the memory arts and memorization. The memory arts were about learning how to order ideas in new ways, and thus the memory arts were a path to composition and innovation and the generation of novelty. It was about taking older and simpler parts and from those parts making new things, be they hymns, poems, prayers, books, or a new appreciation of the wonders of God. 1819

Two different effects are operating here, but we can tease them apart for a look at where humanity is headed. On one hand, many successful individuals will learn how to think like smart machines, or at least enough to understand their operation, in order to become wealthy, high-status earners. In that way we will become more like computers—well, a large number of high earners will become more like computers anyway, cognitively speaking. That said, when it comes to our private lives, we will become less like computers, because we rely on computers for many basic functions, such as recording numbers, helping us with arithmetic, and remembering facts through internet search. In these ways we will become more intuitive, more attuned to the psychology and emotions of everyday life, and more spontaneously creative. 1848

Looking back, we have seen a great stagnation of wages in the United States since about 1973. Given that this book offers a view of how that era of stagnation is going to evolve into a new chapter in our nation’s history, it is worth addressing how much of the stagnant wage trend in the United States was or might remain due to foreign competition. 1901

Should we blame the foreigners for our difficulties? And how will foreign competition shape jobs and wages going forward? Many economists are skeptical of arguments that lay the blame for our weak job market on foreign trade. The notion that foreign competition causes low wages and unemployment has been around for centuries. Yet foreign competition continues to grow, and for the most part, at least until recently, wages have continued to rise. Furthermore, there are plenty of highly open, high-trade economies with employment success stories, most notably Switzerland, which at the end of 2011 had an unemployment rate of only 3.1 percent. Sweden’s story is broadly similar. 1903

Economists have been investigating the claim that foreign competition destroys jobs for a long time. It remains difficult to substantiate that claim. It is easy to throw around charges that American workers now have to compete with billions of new workers, many from formerly Communist or Socialist countries, yet most of those billions are not serious competitors, most of all because they have very low productivity. 1908

The most detailed study of labor’s falling share in output finds that new information and communications technologies—which can substitute for labor—play a larger role in compensation shifts than does foreign trade. 1913

It’s also hard to find serious evidence that immigration has hurt American wages in a significant way. Harvard professor George Borjas, a leading critic of our current immigration policies, has presented evidence that immigrants have lowered the wages of high school dropouts, in the long run, by 4.8 percent. But the wages of many other Americans have risen, and some major groups, such as the college educated, have suffered a long-run loss of 0.5 percent in wages, which is close to no effect at all. And that’s what the major immigration critic finds. 1915

What about exporting work to workers outside the United States? Some of my economist friends will hate this: It is increasingly hard to deny that outsourcing is playing some role in stagnant American wages and slow job creation. 1926

It’s simple. Hiring someone is an investment. If some jobs are becoming “higher investment value” while others are becoming “lower investment value,” entrepreneurs and their companies will put the lower investment value jobs in cheaper, lower-wage countries. Some of those jobs will stay in the United States, but only by paying lower wages than would otherwise be the case. 1927

During these periods of prosperity we were world leaders in education—K–12 and university. There was a closer match between the skills required of workers at higher levels of the value chain and the skills that American workers actually possessed. Nowadays, the demands of machinery—including of course computers—are rising at a faster rate than are human capabilities. The machines are getting better education, more rapidly and more cheaply, than are their human teammates and potential teammates. That’s the root of the problem for a lot of workers. 1987

What we see happening is that individuals with college degrees are gravitating to areas where a relatively high percentage of the other individuals also have college degrees. Some of the winning areas are Raleigh, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Stamford, Connecticut, where over 40 percent of the adult residents have college degrees. You can add select areas of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to this list, although those cities as a whole do not show uniform progress in recruiting educated individuals. Some of the loser cities include Bakersfield, California, and Youngstown, Ohio, where the percentage of educated adults is less than one-fifth. It should come as no surprise that the cities with high levels of education tend to have much lower levels of unemployment. We see also that in terms of per capita income, the poorer regions of the United States are no longer catching up to the wealthier regions. 2035

It is worth considering a little more exactly the new ways in which distance does and does not matter. Because of the internet and Amazon, among other developments, it is easier to become self-educated in many more different parts of the world. It is also easier to have a “good enough” or low budget (but happy) life in many more different parts of the world, again because of technology. But if you wish to be a high earner, learning from other well-educated people, geographic proximity is growing in importance, whether in companies or in leading amenities-rich cities or most likely in both. 2050

We as a nation have been thinking about education without knowing what we really want from it. Do we want well-rounded young adults to emerge? Or good citizens? Role models? These goals seem reasonable but what do they mean? For the purposes of this chapter, and indeed this book, I’ll keep the goal simple. One goal of better education is to procure better earnings. How we might achieve that is the question. 2112

Online education is one place where the new information technologies are emerging. For instance, millions of people are taking MOOCs (massive open online courses) or using the free instructional videos from Khan Academy on mathematics and other topics. Circa 2013, no one is surprised when a new foreign aid program consists simply of dropping iPads into rural Ethiopia and letting children figure out how to work them. 2124

Online education is expanding beyond its niche status, but sometimes we don’t recognize the most important developments as explicit education. In my own field of economics, what is the most common and regular form of contact the general public has with economic reasoning? It’s no longer the Econ 101 class but rather it is economics blogs, which are read by hundreds of thousands of people every day. I submit that “cross-blog dialogue,” as I call it, is for many people a better way of learning than boring lectures, PowerPoints, and dry, overly homogenized, designed-not-to-offend-anybody textbooks. Schools are supposed to be proper and politically correct, but sometimes the point really sticks when Paul Krugman calls someone an idiot on his popular blog and explains why—whether or not you agree with Krugman or the (supposed) idiot. Blogs have to get people to care because it is a very competitive environment. The competition is to capture anyone’s attention. 2127

It’s not just formal online education and blogs. Apps, TED lectures on YouTube, Twitter, reading Wikipedia, or just learning how to work and set up your iPad are all manifestations of this new world of competitive education, based on interaction with machine intelligence. These new methods of learning are all based on the principles of time-shifting (watch and listen when you want), user control, direct feedback, the construction of online communities, and the packaging of information into much smaller bits than the traditional lecture or textbook chapter. 2133

Online education is even growing as a supplement to K–12 or in some cases as a replacement altogether. As of late 2011, about 250,000 K–12 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools. Over two million K–12 students take at least one class online. At these online schools, the degree of contact with flesh-and-blood teachers varies. Instructors might answer questions by email, phone, or videoconference, supplemented by periodic meetings, class trips, and “live,” in-the-classroom exams. It’s often for less than half the price of a traditional K–12 schooling experience. 2139

The first is that online education will be extremely cheap. Once an online course is created, additional students can be handled at relatively low cost, often close to zero cost. (We can even look forward to the day where essay questions are graded by artificial intelligence, and indeed some examples of this already are succeeding.) Over time, competitive pressures will operate to push price down close to costs. That’s not quite the world we have today, because setup costs for the classes remain a burden and most good colleges and universities have radically incomplete online offerings. It is also true that getting official accreditation for these courses is far from easy. 2151

Fourth, online education also allows for a much more precise measurement of learning. Consider the Khan Academy and its online videos. They are already measuring which videos lead to the best performance on quiz scores, which videos have to be watched more than once, at which point in the videos individuals stop for pause and replay, and so on. We are creating a treasure trove of information about actual learning, and we are just beginning to mine this data. 2183

If a student is falling behind, or in denial about his or her progress in the course, the software is the first to know. We’re about to apply “Big Data” to the students themselves, and man and machine will work together to improve significantly the quality of education. In a slightly more distant future, we can imagine the computers hooked up to bodily sensors of pulse and scans of facial movements, perhaps to determine if the student is bored, distracted, or simply not understanding the material. 2186

For all the successes of games, however, they also point out some limitations of education by computer, at least how we currently practice it. Education into the world of games works remarkably well, but it works mainly for people who wish to learn the games. Chess-playing computers don’t boost the play of diffident students who refuse to spend much time with the machine. For people who aren’t already motivated, or on the verge of picking up a new fascination, nothing about the game is all that enticing or seductive. 2214

Sometimes a student may care about doing well with grades but not about mastering the actual material and moving on to the next step. Chess teacher Peter Snow reports that some of his young students love playing against the computer, but they deliberately put the quality settings on the program so low that they can beat it many times in a row. At this point they should raise the skill level of the program to make the challenge tougher, but they don’t always want to do so. Similarly, studies of spelling bees show that the winning spellers are those who not only work hard, but who engage in disciplined forms of study that do not always yield immediate positive feedback. 2217

The superstars will reach higher and more dramatic peaks, and at earlier ages. Magnus Carlsen is, as I write, the highest rated player in the world and arguably the most impressive chess prodigy of all time, having attained grandmaster status at thirteen and world number one status at age nineteen, the latter a record. He is from Tønsberg, in southern Norway, and prior to the computer age Norway has no record of producing top chess players at all. Even Oslo (Carlsen now lives on its outskirts) is a relatively small metropolitan area of fewer than 1.5 million people. Carlsen, of course, had the chance to play chess over the internet. 2233

Again, we see some analogous results popping up in online education. When Sebastian Thrun, then of Stanford, taught his artificial intelligence course online, the best performers were not the students from Stanford. Generally the best performers were the students abroad, often from poor countries and very often from India. All of a sudden these individuals had a chance to outperform the US domestic elites. It is no surprise that recent speculation has centered on whether tech employers and other companies might use online courses as a new way to recruit talent. 2244

Online education can thus be extremely egalitarian, but it is egalitarian in a funny way. It can catapult the smart, motivated, but nonelite individuals over the members of elite communities. It does not, however, push the uninterested student to the head of the pack. Here is yet another way in which the idea of a hyper-meritocracy will apply to our future. 2248

It remains to be seen whether online education will spread with equal rapidity but most likely it will not. One major problem is simply that universities are for the most part bureaucracies. Faculty often fear online education because they sense it will either put them out of a job, lower their status and importance, or force them to learn fundamentally new methods of teaching, none of which sound like pleasant prospects, especially for a class of individuals used to holding protected jobs that involve a certain amount of autonomy and indeed coddling. 2259

It will become increasingly apparent how much of current education is driven by human weakness, namely the inability of most students to simply sit down and try to learn something on their own. It’s a common claim that you can’t replace professors with Nobel-quality YouTube lectures because the professor, and perhaps also the classroom setting, is required to motivate most of the students. Fair enough, but let’s take this seriously. The professor is then a motivator first and foremost. Let’s hire good motivators. Let’s teach our professors how to motivate. Let’s judge them on that basis. Let’s treat professors more like athletics coaches, personal therapists, and preachers, because that is what they will evolve to be. 2337

As it currently stands, we are losing track of a college education’s real comparative advantage. This was an acceptable bargain when the wages of educators and administrators were low, and government budgets had more slack, but it’s becoming increasingly expensive. 2348

We like to pretend our instructors teach as well as chess computers, but too often they don’t come close to that ideal. They are something far less noble, something that we are afraid to call by its real name, something quite ordinary: They are a mix of exemplars and nags and missionaries, packaged with a marketing model that stresses their nobility and a financial model that pays them pretty well and surrounds them with administrators. It’s no wonder that this very human enterprise doesn’t always work so well. 2350

What does the resulting model of education look like? The better-performing students will be treated much as chess prodigies are today. They will be given computer programs to play with, with periodic human contact for guidance, feedback, and upgrades to new and better programs. They will cooperate with each other toward the end of greater mastery of their subject areas. Their conscientiousness, and the understanding that high wages await them in the world, will enforce hard work and discipline. 2357

The lesser-performing students will specialize in receiving motivation. Education, for them, will become more like the Marines, full of discipline and team spirit. Not everyone will adopt the so-called “tiger mother” or Asian parenting style, but its benefits will become more obvious. A lot of softer parents will hire schools and tutors to do this for them. The strict English boarding school style of the nineteenth century will, in some form or another, make a comeback. If your eleven-year-old is not getting with the program, you will consider sending him away to the hardworking, whip-cracking Boot Camp for Future Actuaries. 2361

When a person is not doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, someone has to deliver that message in just the right way. Show up on time! Don’t shop online at your desk! Sell more of our products! Listen more closely to our customers! It is a complicated communication because you are both making the person feel bad about what they have been doing and getting them willing to achieve better results. Expert coaching or motivating will be a competitive growth sector for jobs. 2396

And just as conscientiousness will become a more important quality in labor markets, so will teaching and instilling conscientiousness become more important in the economy as a whole, a theme outlined by Daniel Akst in his brilliant yet neglected 2011 book We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess. A lot of new jobs will be coming in the area of motivation. These jobs will require some very serious skills, but again they won’t primarily be skills of a high tech nature or skills that are taught very well by our current colleges and universities. And again, these high expertise coaching jobs won’t be shipped overseas. 2399

High-skilled performers, including business executives, will have some kind of coach. There will be too much value at stake to let high performers operate without a steady stream of external advice, even if that advice has to be applied rather subtly. Top doctors will have a coach, just as today’s top tennis players (and some of the mediocre ones) all have coaches. Today the coach of a CEO is very often the spouse, the personal assistant, or even a subordinate, or sometimes a member of the board of directors. Coaching is already remarkably important in our economy, and the high productivity of top earners will cause it to become essential. 2403

At various career steps, individuals who work with genius machines will need to retrain and learn new systems. Some will opt for self-education, supplemented by programs and some human guidance, much like the chess prodigies. Those who are less self-motivated will subject themselves to extreme forms of discipline for short periods of time, to learn a new set of skills. And others will retreat into the world of what I have called threshold earners, just trying to get by. 2409

Larry Kaufman, who developed the evaluation function for the Rybka program, and who is the mastermind of the Komodo program, graduated from MIT with an undergraduate degree in economics in 1968. He went to work on Wall Street as a broker and soon started developing his own form of options-pricing theory, working independently of Fischer Black and Myron Scholes; Scholes later won a Nobel Prize for that contribution. Kaufman’s theory was based on ideas of Brownian motion and the logistic function, the latter of which he took from formulas for calculating chess ratings. In the 1970s he made money by applying his options-pricing work through a trading firm and stopped when the profits went away, and he has since dedicated his life to chess and computer chess, including his work on Rybka and Komodo. He lives in a fine house in one of the nicest parts of suburban Maryland, with his beautiful wife and young daughter. Again, we see the mix of a moderate level of elite education combined with extreme self-education over many years. 2416

In his midsixties, Kaufman is still making pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of intelligent machines. He and Nelson Hernandez are good examples of the kind of skills that will win out in the future. Above all else, they are masters of reeducation. 2423

Science is a general framework for making predictions, controlling our environment, and understanding our world. 2430

We should not, however, take that state of knowledge as fixed. I’m not talking about a decline in literacy here—science itself is, in many areas, moving beyond the frontiers of ready intelligibility. For at least three reasons, a lot of science will become harder to understand: 2438

1. In some (not all) scientific areas, problems are becoming more complex and unsusceptible to simple, intuitive, big breakthroughs. 2. The individual scientific contribution is becoming more specialized, a trend that has been running for centuries and is unlikely to stop. 3. One day soon, intelligent machines will become formidable researchers in their own right. 2440

Specialization As science progresses, each new marginal discovery is more the result of specialization and less the result of general breakthroughs, compared to earlier times. There probably won’t be another Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, or Euclid, because the most fundamental contributions in those fields have already been made. 2445

The major inventions behind the Industrial Revolution, for instance, were often driven by amateurs. That’s become a lot harder because there is so much knowledge to master in the mature fields. It can take ten years of study or more to get to the frontier of a lot of areas, and by the time you get there, and figure out something new, your contribution is a marginal one or maybe a little out-of-date. The frontier moved on while you were trying to master it. 2470

Even if you succeed, you’ll understand why your tweak is better than the way things used to be done, but your understanding of the new device as a whole may be rudimentary or even incorrect, because you relied so much upon the underlying knowledge of others. 2473

For more general writings on conscientiousness, see Brent W. Roberts, Carl Lejuez, Robert F. Krueger, Jessica M. Richards, and Patrick L. Hill, “What Is Conscientiousness and How Can It Be Assessed?”, Developmental Psychology, 3171

also Angela L. Duckworth, David Weir, Eli Tsukayama, and David Kwok, “Who Does Well in Life? Conscientious Adults Excel in Both Objective and Subjective Success,” Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences, online first publication, September 28, 2012. 3173

On fire chiefs and master’s degrees, see Paul Fain, “Advanced Degrees for Fire Chiefs,” Inside Higher Ed, October 27, 2011, /college-degrees-increasingly-help-firefighters-get-ahead#ixzz1f0qkakYi. On rising degree requirements more generally, see Catherine Rampell, “Degree Inflation? Jobs that Newly Require B.A.’s,” The New York Times Economix blog, December 4, 2012. 3185

For a general look at the cognitive abilities of chess players, see Fernand Gobet and Neil Charness, “Expertise in Chess,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, edited by K. Anders Ericsson, Neil Charness, Paul J. Feltovich, and Robert R. Hoffman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 523–38. 3297

On spelling bees, see Angela Lee Duckworth, Teri A. Kirby, Eli Tsukayama, Heather Berstein, and K. Anders Ericsson, “Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, published online October 4, 2010, doi: 10.1177/1948550610385872. 3407