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Education doesn’t encourage creative thinking, says Apple co-founder

Speaking at Splunk.conf 2018, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak shared his belief that the education system dampens creativity

Traditional schools, books and parents do not encourage children to be creative and curious, according to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Speaking at Splunk.conf 2018, Wozniak said we are “all born curious to some extent”, but that parents and school systems try to make everyone act a certain way.

“It’s almost counteractive to the creativity we’re born with,” he said. 

Wozniak said that when he was younger, it was the activities he did outside of school that encouraged him to pursue computing and electrics, which he dubbed the love of his life.

While some people are “good at school”, Wozniak said that when learning science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects at school “you learn how to design things the way they’ve been done in the books”.

He added that he felt most special as a child when he developed a project he had done differently to how other people had achieved it, saying he would always look for the “tricks” that would allow him to produce something in fewer steps than the standard process.

“I knew I was really good at it, but you couldn’t talk to other students because they didn’t do these things,” he said.

While most engineers learn “all the methods in the books”, Wozniak he was “lucky” that he didn’t have enough money to invest in tech, as it meant he designed his computers on paper.

“Sometimes the best things you do are because of limited resources,” he said, adding that in many cases the best inventions are born out of serendipity.

Wozniak was previously a teacher to young children for eight years. He said he never referred his students to a book, instead creating his own lesson plans, just as his own electronics teacher had: “I didn’t want to teach them to be computer geeks or computer experts. I just wanted to teach them to be good, normal students.”

The world doesn’t need every student to be a “computer geek”, he said, and he encouraged young people to start “building things”.

“I would not expect them to learn to be programmers,” he said, adding that he believes children should not learn to code and programme until they are around 12 years old because of the development of the human brain.

While automation begins to relieve humans of some of the more mundane tasks they have to perform, creative skills are becoming increasingly important when applying for technology roles.

But Wozniak stated he doesn’t believe artificial intelligence (AI) will ever reach the same level of the human brain, mainly because we’re still not clear on how the human brain works, making it impossible to simulate it.

“We keep raising the bar, somehow we know it doesn’t work the same as the human mind,” he said.

AI as a technology is mainly geared towards making life easier for people, and Wozniak said technology is doing that, but whether it will advance further any time soon is unlikely.

“What would it take for machines to really take over the world from humans?” he asked, pointing out that machines would have to learn how to make other machines.

“It isn’t going to happen” he said. “As far as future tech goes, I don’t think we’re ever going to get AI to where it’s like a brain and it’s conscious.”

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