Forward Thinking – A Past Student’s View
Prageeth (PJ) Jayathissa left Scots in 2007 to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury. Since then his career has taken many twists and turns.
He started his own design engineering company which had projects ranging from wind turbine optimisation to electric bike design. PJ moved to Switzerland to study for his Masters at the ETH Zurich in renewable energy systems, and wrote a thesis on human skin tissue repair. Following that he began working as an architect designing buildings that produce more electricity than they
consume (an example pictured below), and somewhere in between wrote a PhD on the matter.
While in Europe, PJ was President of a network of more than 2000 entrepreneurs and innovators that utilised their knowledge to solve problems in climate change, and set up an organisation that provides protection to vulnerable refugee women in Greece. He now works as a data scientist in Singapore where he uses AI to optimise human wellbeing in office spaces. And he also teaches yoga in his spare time.
PJ’s own experiences have led him to think about how today’s students should be prepared for their futures:
“The general education system is loosely based off methods designed during the industrial revolution; you learn subjects, specialise in a career, and become a human machine within a certain skill set.
While this has worked in the past, I am now designing machines that are more capable, efficient and competent than any human machine can be. A human machine simply has no chance of competing against the artificial intelligence that is being manifested.
So what differentiates humans from the current state of AI? It is curiosity, compassion for others, the desire to solve global problems, the ability to think creatively, and innovate. Even educators should be warned – if you don’t innovate in your teaching methods you too will be made redundant in the near future!
Students should not learn subjects to know subjects, because any AI will know these subjects better. Rather, you should learn subjects in order to learn how to learn. We all have open access to an unfathomable quantity of knowledge. The challenge is to process that knowledge in the most efficient way. That is what you need to get out of your time at school.
Focus on your curiosity in the world, employ the breadth of knowledge that is available to you, solve the large problems in life, and most importantly fail.
If this sounds theoretical, in terms of practicality, I look at my cohort of colleagues who studied mechanical engineering. One works as a lawyer, another works with autistic children. There’s a musician, mindfulness coach, sailor, pilot, and a huge number that became scientists or got brought into the finance and consulting sector.
These career changes were possible because our engineering degree taught problem-solving and the search for knowledge. We became modern versions of the renaissance-man that can simultaneously be an artist, philosopher, mathematician and scientist. We are no longer boxed into career silos because that simply has no future.
Fortunately, these skills can be attained during your time in school. You just need to try and fail. Start an organisation that solves a societal problem. Learn to code online and develop an app. Go protest against injustice. Help a homeless person, and trace the source of poverty. Make a process more efficient and follow it through into a product. And most importantly be curious, and let it kill the cat that resides within you.”