It is ironical that we are in the 21st century talking and experiencing artificial intelligence, supersonic jets, cryogenic engines, storing digital information in bacteria and yet our basics and school education is so far fetched from what it should have been. Do we have teachers with perspicuity of the basic concepts? Let me share with you two of my life experiences. The first one was during my engineering undergraduate degree. Yes, I am an electronics engineer and I am proud to say that I still do not understand perfectly how an amplifier works. I once asked the physical interpretation of Fourier Transform to my professor who happened to have done her PhD in an IIT (more about these institutes with I’s in another blog). Her answer: ‘You are confusing the whole class. Sit down!’.
Second example is that of this gentleman who belonged to some mathematics research institute and he is the recipient of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award (awarded to geniuses in basic sciences in India, very popular). He happened to have got this award for his work on complex numbers. After his seminar, I asked him the physical interpretation of complex numbers. My reasoning was if complex numbers are imaginary and not real, why do we worry about them (there is so much in the real world to work on !). His answer: “Your question does not deserve to be answered !”. My befitting response: I just walked away from that seminar room.
Fourier and Laplace did not start with a mathematical equation. They started to solve some problem and then once they found patterns in their solution, they could come up with an equation. Today, we forget the roots and all we have is their equation. Throughout my engineering (bachelors degree), I have just plugged in values in numerical problems and calculated the answers. This is more or less the same for every engineering undergraduate in India, at least the majority of them.
Common ! We can do better. We need to focus on the basic concepts right from school to the college and only then, our demographic dividend will produce higher yields. Unfortunately, demographic dividend in third world countries is restricted to providing mechanical skills which do not require the use of intelligence and such ‘intelligent’ work is left to those in the developed nations.
The way we have organized the knowledge is partly responsible for this fiasco. I hear many people saying that we are fortunate to be living in a world where we have internet and ‘google’. I think that this is not true. Ramanujan, J. C. Bose, Visveswariah were stalwarts in their fields in an age without internet and ‘google’. In fact, ‘google’ has blinded us and our information base today is restricted to what it shows in the first two pages of it’s search results. And, there are professionals (called SEO professionals) who are working hard to make sure that your website is listed on the first two pages). Thus, what we see in the first two pages of search results may many a times satiate our immediate need but never take it for the best response or answer to your question.
We need curated content and knowledge using the best of both artificial intelligence and human capabilities to create an organized knowledge base. Such a knowledge base will be valued more than the Facebook, YouTube, Google and Netflix put together. That is the future of ‘Knowledge Economy’.