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Is There a Smart Person Shortage?


A thought to ponder: Is our technology getting too smart? Are we going to run out of enough smart people to wrangle it?

After writing about quantum computing last week, I started imagining the number of physicists that would need to be on-call at Geek Squad. We’d have to dig up Albert Einstein’s body and clone his DNA to build the small army of geniuses we would need to fill the jobs.

Okay, a sharp spike in the demand of physicists isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but the shortage of qualified people is a practical concern in lots of industries.

While the verdict is still out on if we still have an accounting talent crisis — what about the shortage of smart and ambitious people in general? Does the world have enough smart people to do all of the knowledge sector jobs we are dreaming up?

Everything, particularly with regard to technology, is a lot more complex than it was a decade or two ago. Toss in all the other professions vying for top talent, and we may be in a bit of a pickle.

Can humankind keep up with technology?

Elon Musk and other futurists are super worried about our impending inferiority to machines, as discussed on

Soon, very soon, our computers will surpass us in every skill imaginable.

This fact concerns a number of individuals, as artificial intelligence is predicted to outpace humanity at an unprecedented rate, which may result in AI looking at us as nothing more than house pets (or maybe even doing away with us entirely).

Musk’s solution is to implant a computer to link to your brain — so there’s that.

Huddle Inc. references the “superintelligent” phase of artificial intelligence, aka singularity, starts “when computers become both aware and exponentially smarter than their human creators,” and that could be sooner than we think. One acclaimed futurist, Ray Kurzweil, said that “the human brain will be reverse-engineered by 2029. By 2045… we will achieve the singularity.”

Technology is plowing forward and advancing every day. It’s tough to even remotely keep up, even if we studied and made a conscious effort as a society to value this type of knowledge in our schools and through our public policy.

The problem is maybe we are getting dumber instead of making gains with regard to human intelligence.

Are we regressing?

NPR weighed in two years ago with a debate about whether “smart technology [is] making us dumb” by posing this question:

But, are we smarter now that technology has put a lot more than a slide rule into our pockets? Or are we so dependent on technology to do things for us that we are losing the ability to make our own magic, mentally, socially and politically?

The debate resulted in a tie. Go figure.  

In my personal experience, I have met a lot of inept people. Or, maybe people are just lazy. Our resident futurist, Chris Hooper, also noticed accountants are notorious for being lazy and our skills often atrophy if we don’t use them enough:

Further, I think not using our core accounting muscle, has made us dumber. These days I’m barely using the skills I learned at university or my Chartered Accounting course. My team and myself see a lot of the traditional accounting value chain as a chore and an inconvenience.

Nah, we are getting smarter!

At least there is some support that we are actually improving in terms of fluid intelligence (i.e., processing abilities) and crystallized intelligence (e.g., knowledge), called the Flynn effect.  Research, reported in Wired magazine, indicates that we have been getting smarter over the last 100 years with increasing problem-solving scores, nonverbal scores (while verbal scores are stagnant), and scores that “exists primarily on those tests with content that does not appear to be easily learned.” Fluid intelligence, the ability to acquire and process information and multi-task more complex tasks, is becoming easier.

So, maybe there hope for us after all without a brain implant.

The Smithsonian Magazine examined the Flynn effect and overall increase in average IQ score over the last 100 years and concluded that:

What is important is how our minds differ from those of people 100 years ago, not whether we label it “smarter” or “more intelligent.” I prefer to say our brains are more modern.

More modern or not, one study referenced in Psychology Today indicates that the smartest are getting smarter.

I’d like to think that lots of CPAs would fit into this “smarter” category. You may disagree.