Author: Anna Sacio-Szymańska (ITeE-PIB)


 “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This is how the famous, motivational speech begins (Wallace 2009). In it, D.F. Wallace was explaining to 2005 Kenyon’s graduating class of liberal arts that the degree the graduates were about to receive had actual human value instead of just a material payoff. In doing so, at the end of his speech; he concludes that the mission of our existence lies in conscious lifelong learning:

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.” “This is water.” It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime.”

Does this message still apply in the times of rapid growing rates of machine learning and advancements in artificial intelligence?

Lifelong learning in the light of an unprecedented pace of technological innovation

Anxiety about the adverse impact of new technologies on jobs and incomes is not new. For instance, John Maynard Keynes (1930) warned about the possibility of “technological unemployment.” Is this time different? Machines can perform an increasing range of tasks reserved for humans in the past. ICT have eliminated many office jobs performing routine tasks, and progress in robotics has changed manufacturing (Peralta-Alva, Roitman 2018, p. 4).

These advancements imply that in the future workers will not only compete among human talent but also with machines and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry. Despite the technological advances powered by the rise in AI; experts do say that, factories of the future will not be labour-free (2018 World Manufacturing Forum Report, p. 20).

They claim that such factories will require employees with substantial vocational skills, some of which they do not presently have. In addition to traditional manufacturing skills, new relevant skills should include emphasis on cognitive competences such as (2018 World Manufacturing Forum Report, p. 77):

  • analytical reasoning,
  • system and computational thinking,
  • emotional intelligence,
  • communication and team-working skills,
  • entrepreneurial mind-set,
  • data search and analysis.

In the view of the above, the authors of the IMF report underline the need for higher education spending (Peralta-Alva, Roitman 2018, p. 17). Whereas the WMF publication calls for improvement of education programmes and update of teaching processes to include new didactic methods (2018 World Manufacturing Forum Report, p. 77).

Interestingly, the WMF report asserts that the industrial workforce is not the only group within society that must be trained to deal with new technologies. The general public must also be educated as advanced technology is becoming embedded in every facet of life. In order to avoid people becoming overwhelmed by machines, everyone needs to be more prepared for these new technologies and challenges.

And so it is good news. This means that education and lifelong learning are becoming increasingly relevant compared to the past as a result of technological advancement.

We do hope that with this short text, we have inspired you to keep re-discovering what “water is to you”, and to encourage others, who cross your professional or personal lives, to understand that as well.


  1. Wallace D. F., This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life; Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Audio is available from:
  2. Peralta Alva Adrian, Roitman Agustin, Technology and the Future of Work, IMF Working Paper, Fiscal Affairs Department and Strategy Policy and Review Department, September 2018
  3. 2018 World Manufacturing Forum Report. Recommendations for the Future of Manufacturing, World Manufacturing Foundation