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Coding a Future: Full STEaM Ahead

Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” And we live in a rapidly changing world, don’t we? The technological advances of the past fifty years have far surpassed those from the previous five hundred. From industry and machinery, to computing and electronics, to artificial intelligence, humans continuously carve out for themselves new spaces for societies to flourish.

One thriving group of these new spaces are the STEM industries―science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They’ve been getting a lot of attention, especially over the past couple of decades, as both markers of human progress and opportunities to further flourish.

The industrial revolution allowed blend tools that we were familiar with―gears, wheels, and the like―and blend them with sources of power and energy, such as coal and oil, allowing us to tackle problems mechanically, much more efficiently than ever before possible. As electricity became more readily available, this enabled mechanics to become embrace automation, and the internet and computing revolution opened up a whole new set of technologically-assisted opportunities. Now, hardly a daily task is accomplished without technological support of some capacity. As AI becomes more sophisticated, we have the increasing ability to automate solutions, further closing the gap between human thought and human accomplishment.

This automation, however, is far from autonomous, and is a far cry from the creative problem solving happening in the minds of the people who use it. Behind every process that occurs at the touch of a button, a complex stream of rational code guides the automation through a multitude of variables and decisions. Replacing traditional gears and wheels, this code represents the metaphorical inner workings of the machine―and all of this has to be developed by highly educated, skilled, and specialized individuals. Coding, therefore, the hidden in the “T” in STEM, underpins all three other areas, and indeed, all kinds of aspects of modern life.

Coding is the process of predicting and accounting for any scenario that you wish to design the machine to handle, and engineering the response that the machine should have. This complex set of instructions needs to be written in a language that the machine can process, or understand. Smart machines require smarter code.

But these skills do not come at a one-stop shop. Technology continues to evolve in sophistication, driven by the discontent of our race with the status quo. Humans imagine and expect more from their devices, seeking a seamless relationship between their thoughts and their tools. This requires skill to navigate, alongside a hungry mind with a strong ability to adapt.

S - Coding in Science

The sciences rely on the computational power of technology for far more complex problems than we ever would have been able to tackle before. Modern scientific research in anything from geological study to extra-planetary analysis to pharmaceutical development to climate mapping and prediction requires AI support to organizing vast amounts of data into a format that enables drawing inferences and conclusions. Sciences that run physical experiments, such as those in chemical or food safety, require precision robotics to manipulate minuscule variables. Beyond the lab, science-centric practices such as conducting eye surgeries and manufacturing rely on precisely programmed robotics to carry out exacting results.

Behind all these databases and calculators and mechanics, computer code has to be developed to allow for the predictable and critical results these practices depend on. This requires minds that are not only specialized in the various niches of scientific study, but ones that are prepared to translate their requirements into computer language.

E - Coding in Engineering

Engineering is the practice of taking complex scientific knowledge and turning it into actionable solutions to real-world problems. This could take the form of anything from civil engineering and infrastructure construction, to machine design, to electrical mapping, to computer network management and more. Engineering requires precision; imagine the devastation caused by a miscalculation in the load bearing abilities of 14,000 tons of steel. Or imagine a key variable in municipal electrical power being overlooked, resulting in outages, shortages, or dangerous electrical overloads.

Engineering requires the wealth of lessons we have collectively learned in these fields be accounted for. And just what kind of system could handle such a wealth of information? You guessed it: modern engineering is absolutely dependent on computing. Engineering management requires algorithmic technology to process past history and output exacting calculations with the goal of optimizing both efficiency and safety.

The Unofficial “a” - Coding in Artistry

Did you know that AI and computing is making an appearance on the world stage of creative arts and design? Computing made its debuts in the art space through skill-support and time-saving tools. Examples of these include graphic editing programs with built in templates and settings, and cameras that automatically optimized for photographing specific environments. These freed amateurs and semi-professionals from the burden of understanding all the nuances of ISOs, exposure, colour balancing, and layering, while still making decent results possible. As this kind of support gets more sophisticated, it can be hard sometimes to even tell the difference between professional-grade and computer-assisted designs. Technology is eroding the technical skills gap between amateurs and professionals in many forms of art.

Now, there is even experimentation with voice-dictated created art creation, which would in theory even eliminate the hurdle of software mastery. Some groups are even experimenting with not just AI-assisted art, but AI created art, in which computers (attempt to) write stories, paint paintings, and generate graphic designs to rival the creations of humans.

Accomplishing believable results requires feeding massive collections of information to the AI, along with sophisticated coding that allows software to sift through and choose what bits of information are relevant. Combine this with the need to refine such algorithms for biases, taste, and continued evolution in human imagination and, to be frank, you create a need for computer programmers who are really good at their jobs.

M – Coding and Mathematics

So, what does all this have to do with mathematics? Mentorhood is a math-focused organization, is it not?

Well, for one thing, pure mathematics as dependent on computing support as any other modern scientific industry―crunching complicated calculations takes much more computational power than a human can muster. But even more generally, the practice of coding itself requires a mathematically-wired mind that is capable of handling detail, consistency, logic, and structure, as well as an advanced level of comfort with algorithmic calculations and statistics. Coding is not just about writing down thoughts in “computer-speak”. It’s about developing complicated formulas that account for myriad variables and create logical outcomes. Moreover, programmers are often required to operate different kinds of software to create and test code, and a brain comfortable with logic will have an easier time picking up new applications by thinking the way a computer does.

All of our teaching at Mentorhood emphasizes this sort of logical framework that, really, underpins our whole world. It’s important to us to instruct our students in visualizing mathematical and logical concepts because this develops their logical intuition. Strong roots in logical consistency and mathematical thinking sets an individual up for success regardless of the industry they choose to pursue a career in, and especially if they find themselves interested in one of the STEM professions.

Dealing with coding specifically, however, this year we are launching a new initiative. We’ll be starting camps specifically geared towards coding and computer science. We’re excited to be able to show students how their studies of math can translate into real, in-demand skills that will continue to evolve as human imagination continues to push the boundaries of technology. We’ll be announcing more details on these specific educational opportunities soon.

Coding Our Future

Society used to function purely on muscle―we worked with what we could build with our hands. Our limits were blasted open through the invention of machinery, expanding our world to include what we could engineer. Now, technology and computing is the muscle of society. We create the parameters of our world based on what we can program.

Coding and computer science continue to increase in importance in our world. We’re preparing our students to take advantage of these opportunities, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see many them coding not only their own futures, but the world around all of us one day.

We say, go for it. Full STEaM ahead.

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