Credential Value Shifts

The educational shortcuts we've all come to rely on are likely to become less and less viable.

I will probably get a ton of shit for saying this, but it's true: credentials often protect people who aren't that smart. Emphasizing credentials is one way to ensure that people who aren't geniuses still have a way to move up in the world. The top 1% of performers don't really need a piece of paper, because their work speaks for itself. But we can't run a society on that since, by definition, 99% of us wouldn't qualify.

It also means that you can get a degree in something that doesn't require massive amounts of economically-relevant brainpower. Most people aren't built to be engineers, scientists or doctors, and many people who could do that kind of work would hate it. So as it stands, you can still get ahead if you have a degree in something less lucrative but personally fulfilling.

I think this is largely a good thing, although it can definitely be a net negative when stupid people who come from affluent families use Ivy League degrees as a way to monopolize powerful positions in society.

And to be clear, I'm not saying everyone with a degree is stupid, merely that it isn't the indicator of intelligence or competence many take it to be. It's quite possible to be highly credentialed and stupid, but it's possible to not have any credentials and be an idiot as well. But a stupid person with a degree will, on average, do better in the job market than a smart person without one.

The overall point is that this educational mechanism protects average people and has done so for quite some time. With the advent of AI, that may all change. The degrees with value will either be directly relevant to building and maintaining AI-centric systems, or in fields where AI simply can't replace humans.

Intensifying Competition for Degrees

That pool of qualifications will by default be quite small, and those looking to improve their position in society will no doubt recognize what degrees are valuable. We're already seeing cut-throat competition when it comes to academic success, imagine what will happen when all those hardcore, "if my kids don't go to Harvard I will kill myself" parents realize their children have even fewer pathways to success!

Remember: businesses need fewer and fewer people to run now, which means just getting a specific type of credential may not be enough. If everyone has a degree in machine learning and companies just won't hire enough of those degree holders, then the value of that degree goes down by default. It seems likely that the value of all degrees is going to go down hard except in a few cases (I doubt an Ivy League degree will carry less weight, as it's mostly about connections and "prestige" than anything related to skills).

Like the problem of job scarcity, this shift in credential value will hurt many people from the lower echelons of society who want to move up. And similar to the job situation, it's doubtful anyone is coming to save you—so other options must be explored.

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