Interdisciplinarity of specialization

The week of September 19th, 2016. Paris. I had the chance to attend my first lecture on genetic engineering, as part of SciencesPoDisruptive Technologies and Public Policy course. 

In a nutshell, the course is focused on building bridges between the scientific world and those who are supposed to create future regulatory frameworks, either to save us from a sci-fi doomsday or to empower scientists in advancing human race forward (the line between the two efforts is apparently blur)

Here are few other topics discussed during the SciencesPo course:

  1. Digital tech and the Future of Work 
  2. The transformation of State with Open Data
  3. Modifying genomes
  4. Food of the future
  5. Engineering the collective
  6. Geoengineering
  7. AI and Data Science
  8. Robotics
  9. Risks and unpredictability
  10. Digital Regulation

One pretty exciting list of subjects to study, but I set down to write this article for a different reason, a set of conflicting ideas around skills. These ideas kept on repeating, this week, within various discussions with my EdTech Master peers.

On one hand, historical data on wealth and work shows an almost direct relationship between the wellbeing of a community / nation and the specialization of its people. In modern terms, the higher a country's GDP per capita the more professions or variety of career paths in that country. Why? Because they can. People secured their basic needs so they are free to develop skills that best suit their interests, assuming those skills are somehow valuable on the market. (Exceptions from this historical trend might be attributed to mono-economies - countries that depend heavily on a single industrial sector or natural resource, income inequality often being a major challenge).

On the other hand, the reality of today's economic landscape, driven in part by technological development, including the employment market data, calls for fast adaptability of adult skills and interdisciplinary approaches to work. The latter is demonstrated by the need for policy makers (the SciencesPo course I started this article with) to understand disruptive technologies in order to represent the best interests of the nations they "so humbly" serve. 

This debate reminded me of a quote shared by my friend Robin Holmes a few months ago:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. - Robert A. Heinlein

After all, what is a democratic society but a rational debate between well educated multidisciplinary minds? At least, the theoretical model of a healthy democracy.  

What do you think?