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Jason Bradbury: Coding lessons in schools are a waste of time

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Jason Bradbury

The Gadget Show host Jason Bradbury believes the UK government is wasting its time trying to introduce coding lessons into schools.

“My kids won’t need to code because soon computers will just code for them,” Bradbury told us. “I fundamentally disagree with the government initiatives to get my kids coding. It’s a complete waste of time.”

“Soon startups will just be run by really creative people – there won’t be a coder with bad social skills stood on the stage. The future will just be about being creative. This is why we need to challenge STEM and introduce an art component and rename it STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and maths.”

Related: Win an iPad mini 2 with TrustedReviews at Gadget Show Live 2016

Bradbury went on to describe the SAM Labs system as “a perfect example of this prediction that coding will not exist in the future.”

“I bought a big box of SAM Labs kit. My kids can come in here and decide to make a device where if my son squeezes his teddy he will send me a tweet to say, ‘I love you.’ Or if you walk through a laser tripwire it will set off an alarm. It interacts with actual hardware, actual code and all it requires is a squeeze, a drag-and-drop and a little imagination.”

You can see Jason Bradbury at The Gadget Show Live 31 Mar – 3 Apr, or on The Gadget Show on Channel 5 (available on catch-up).

Paul Cathcart

March 24, 2016, 12:33 pm

Understanding the fundamentals of code makes the creator all that more artistic, as does understanding the nuance's of marble for the sculptor, right through to brush choice for a painter and WYSIWYG for a web designer. What developing code can offer the artist is intrinsic, look at how far Pixar films have developed from a bouncing lamp to Big Hero 6. As much of what the artists envisions in the digital age IS code. Parchment was a new technology once, as was cobalt. A good creative knows their materials; the materials of now are "code."

Andrew Nicholson

March 24, 2016, 1:43 pm

I don't code, but wish I could. I may sit down and learn a few things should I get the time. I believe it important for children to learn what makes things work and unlike Jason Bradbury, believe that technologies like ‪#‎BBCMicroBit‬ should become part of the curriculum. Programming may make way to 'recipe' style coding but a fundamental understanding of what goes into making 'things happen' should be there.

It's the equivalent of 'cooking' a microwave Tika Marsala and creating one from the raw ingredient... generic vs something truly special, developed for your taste.

And that's the key, generic code can already be stripped and reused but innovation only comes from creating something new. Let's give the tools to the new generation to allow this to happen.

Iain Coghill

March 24, 2016, 1:44 pm

Jason Bradbury is wrong, but that shouldn't really come as a big surprise. Visual programming systems, which is basically what SAM Labs offers, have been invented and re-invented many times. Whilst they have their place and can be genuinely useful they all suffer from the same limitation - they don't scale well to complex problems. Dealing with complexity is best done by developing new abstractions, yet visual programming systems already have their abstraction baked in. Extending such systems entails shoe-horning the abstraction you want into the visual abstraction, and inevitably ends up in writing code. As the system grows this code base soon dwarfs the visual element and you begin to wonder why you bothered with it in the first place.

ld_elon

March 24, 2016, 2:03 pm

So when the need to tackle the overlord, coms, none will know how, imbecile.

ld_elon

March 24, 2016, 2:10 pm

Ill add, kids will be taught by unbiased~biasedly programmed bots, an will make their mark in war torn impoverished states where teachers are highly sort products, i means persons.

Michael Garry

March 24, 2016, 3:40 pm

Why do we care what a talking head from TV thinks? Does he even know how to code?

Jason W. Thompson

March 24, 2016, 4:49 pm

I don't think the industry agrees with him. Industry leaders are behind this big push for governments to require programming skills. If creative people could just guide a computer to program itself in the future, then that is what the industry leaders would be investing time and money to.

Don't get me wrong, there are applications for things like AI (such as recognizing if a bird is in a picture), but AI doesn't work for everything.

tina

March 24, 2016, 4:56 pm

He is right about STEAM, art is love, without it, who cares what you can do with STEM? Art gets things COOKING!

Bugblatter

March 24, 2016, 10:14 pm

And we shouldn't train any engineers because in the future we'll build everything out of Lego.

I've written two code generation systems myself, i.e. code that writes code. It hasn't made a single developer redundant, just allowed us to get more done quicker and better.

Once systems get smart enough to not need developers then they'll be smart enough to put most people out of a job, including gadget 'journalists' who don't know what they're talking about.

One thing the article doesn't mention is who he was saying all this to. If it was his mates down then fair enough. If it was a public forum which could affect public perception and ultimately government policy then he should keep his trap shut.

GT2016

March 25, 2016, 12:43 pm

Who?

Dave Dann

March 25, 2016, 2:31 pm

History is a waste of time as their are no jobs for it...

jamesdbailey

March 25, 2016, 2:40 pm

I've been hearing about the automatic programming thing now for 30 years. As someone who writes software for a living, all I can say is it is not happening anytime soon.

James Loyd

March 25, 2016, 2:41 pm

When we have code systems that can generate industrial ERPs and other complex software, then we wont need to learn how to code.

But, we're not there yet, even our smartest AI has the cognitive level of a 4 year old. And, last time I checked, not many 4 year olds can program ERP's.

And also in order to really code complex systems, you must be self-aware. And, we don't have self-aware AI yet.

So Jason, shush, you don't know what you are talking about.

jamesdbailey

March 25, 2016, 3:11 pm

I just looked at the example of SAM Labs application. In what way does this predict that coding will not exist in the future? Can you write the SAM Lab app in the SAM Lab app? Of course not.

The SAM Labs app is a simple system for graphically connecting toy bluetooth sensors and actuators. It looks very cool but there is s a huge disconnect when someone thinks that this will replace coding.

Who does Bradbury think wrote the SAM Labs app? A robot?

ryan

March 25, 2016, 3:43 pm

He doesn't know shit about programming. Programming IS a creative act!
Novice programs and shit software can be automated. Easily solvable, well known problems can be automated. There is too much uncertainty in creation for a computer to abstract into what is effectively a code generator. I suppose if you restrict programming to novice applications and shitty web sites it could work and sadly that's what many think programming is all about.

Visual programming is a great tool and one day it may get close to creating software from pure creative input but that's more than one generation away. It does not eliminate the value of learning to program.

Rob Lane

March 25, 2016, 3:48 pm

I just can't agree with this point of view. Even generated code can be riddled with bugs, and human error has a way in "bleeding through" layers of automation. There is always going to be a need to at least understand and debug code and systems. Automation and intelligence has a long way to go before it can maintain itself, and even then the room for human error is there IMO.

Jason

March 25, 2016, 4:33 pm

Yep, that article makes me sound like an arse and I've spent a few hours on Twitter attempting to say what I thought I was saying to the journalist when I did a phoner a few weeks ago. In a nutshell this is what I believe: If u project exponentially, A.I. self-modifying code starts to become viable in 2025 (or thereabouts) when my current 6 & 8 year olds are late teens and contemplating starting a career. Because of the complexities of resource management, state
education moves slowly, often behind the information-technology curve & that's why we need to project accurately and target learning appropriately. As a STEM ambassador, UTC school governor and Computer Science Lecturer at LincoIn Uni I work with teachers, kids & young people/my own kids all the time and coding is clearly part of their focus. What I see is an enthusiasm for code but an overly pragmatic, almost Victorian doggedness in the way it's taught. When I talked about 'creatives', which granted is a floppy description at best, what I meant was that the best teaching of coding practices and therefore the best coders, balances coding with free expression, creativity and abstract thought. Case in point, my current 3rd A.I module students would, in my opinion stand a better chance of tackling the Turing Test based challenge I've set them if they could, how I can I put this politely, think out of the box a bit more. If some of them could share their skills with the Product Design students at Lincoln, who I also teach, then we would see some truly conceptually diverse coded solutions. And this brings me to this: What if they were the same person? A coder, who by virtue of a more diverse and creative skills-driven coding education, is ready for our collective A.I. code future. It's a future predicted not by me, but the most robust of academics and because we are beyond the 'knee of the curve' it's coming more quickly than most people realise. You either get exponential or you don't - either way it's a reliable metric that offers an astounding view up the cliff face of computer science innovation until 2025ish. This is why I used the example of SAMLabs - it's a glimpse of our coding future. It's so visual, it's so creative and cognitively so abstract that my kids don't even realise they are learning code when they use it. It's not the only example of great code driven educational ideas - there are lots - but it is an example I had to hand when interviewed. It's just brilliant, learning without the capital L. You can drill down and see below the bonnet or you can stick with the drag & drop. It's this creativity and play-driven approach to coding that will take what we currently offer in primary schools out of its niche and prepare a generation fit for the coding future I'm predicting. And there's another dimension to this, in the same way manufacturing in the UK was decimated in the 80s by the rise of India & China, the same has been happening in coding. Rather than crying about it, shouldn't we accept that we are still and always have been a creative and design powerhouse and if we are to compete in a future global marketplace of computers that code and developing nations that code, we should refocus our educational goals. That's where my point about S.T.E.A.M vs S.T.E.M came from. There are enormous resources focused on S.T.E.M but my concern is that these subjects need a creative component that's currently missing, in the most broadest sense, Art. So yes, I did say 'coding is a waste of time' and it was an intentional headline grabber that turned out to be an own goal :) Whatever, it was meant in a context of rapid, blinding, digital evolution, exponential change at a rate it's hard to perceive and it leads to a future in which, by my reasoning, my kids won't code, not in the way us grown-ups talk about coding today and probably not all if the 10^16 cycles per second PCs they'll be using by the time their twenty arrive as predicted.

My remark about coders having poor social skills was meant to be tongue in cheek. It translates badly - and makes me wince as much as you ;)

I can't ping back loads of replies here cause I'm a dad & it's Easter, but you can find me lurking on Twitter. Jason

Jason

March 25, 2016, 4:35 pm

But we will. And so we come to a simple disagreement about when A.I.
driven code of sufficient quality to merit my argument comes to fruition. I'm saying 2025 give or take a few billion transistors. J

pjsx

March 25, 2016, 5:00 pm

"My kids won't need to code because soon computers will just code for them."

And who's going to code the programs that code programs for your kids?

firstborn

March 25, 2016, 10:38 pm

Let's not forget this opinion is from a presenter of a TV show whose only aim appears to be to get 1000's of people to enter a phone competition.

Keith Miller

March 25, 2016, 11:11 pm

Mr Bradbury has himself demonstrated why better CS education is needed, by showing that has has absolutely no comprehension of what software engineering involves. Computers don't have any intelligence. Since writing computer programs requires intelligence, and a lot of skill that simply can not be programmed, that rules out computers doing it automatically. Code generators, or systems that allow hooking up basic building blocks, are obviously restricted to very specific tasks. We already write code generators where we can. You can't simplify software development to a building block approach. I wonder if Mr Bradbury is another PPE/Arts/Drama 'graduate', with no real qualifications to speak of? I certainly wouldn't expect these kind of ramblings from a scientist or engineer. I have around 15 years of experience as a software engineer, and things are only getting more complicated, and requiring even more human effort, with an ever increasing entry barrier, and a smaller talent pool of qualified youngsters. There is a total disconnect between the reality of what software engineering involves, and someone being able to hook up a few basic building blocks on the screen of some device built to allow infants to perform rudimentary tasks.

Also, no engineer would ever want to be ruled over by stupid 'creative' arts graduates who have little or no comprehension of technology, or how it works. If I was part of a startup run by someone like this, I'd be heading for the door faster than the business will be heading for the gutter. These people are not 'creative' at all, they are just inflated egos, who can contribute absolutely nothing, since they are either to stupid or to ignorant to realise what is/is not possible.
In my opinion, if anything is a waste of time, it is PPE/Arts/Drama 'degrees'. The people that do them are the bane of this country, lending incompetence and ego, and poisoning the working environment for people who can actually get real work done.

J.Teigland

March 26, 2016, 8:52 am

I suppose you wish you had not said what you said now Jason , but at least it has sparked a debate. The comments you made come across as very arrogant and ignorant as a few people in Tech / Industry has highlighted. There will always be a need for 'programmers and coders' - how they code will change - agreed. But we will have to 'sow the seed' today and inspire our kids to want to do it and the best place for that is in schools. I think the statement " coding lessons in school are a waste of time " is potentially very damaging coming from you - to say that I'm disappointed is an understatement !!

bumface

March 26, 2016, 9:34 am

And *there* is no point studying English either :-P p.s. I agree with your sentiment

mancmanomyst

March 26, 2016, 2:24 pm

I enjoy watching the gadget show, it's very entertaining but it's just consumerism, not creativity and those two things are becoming confused these days. Configuring an account on some website builder or dragging and dropping things on a UI is not the same thing as being a software engineer and it will never be that way either.

Artificial Intelligence is just that, Artificial. The software cannot think for itself, it is simply executing the instructions it was told to execute given the data it is being given. We will never get to the point where machines truly think, but they can mimic thinking to the point where they can confuse a human being to believe they are actually thinking.

What Jason is saying is dangerous. We have a massive skills shortage in engineering at the moment. We desperately need more people to take an interest in coding or more British firms will be forced to outsource work abroad. Coding is never going to go away, it's an art unto itself.

Jason doesn't seem to understand that ideas are cheap, they mean absolutely nothing without having the skills to turn that idea into something tangible. I also resent his perception of software engineers with no social skills. This stereotype is far from the reality. Software engineers work hard to turn vague business requirements into an actual product and you cannot do that unless you're a good communicator.

There are 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those who do not!

mancmanomyst

March 26, 2016, 2:27 pm

No Jason, you're completely wrong on this one. AI is not intelligence, it's pseudo intelligence. Electrons flying around a circuit board are incapable of "thought" - you're letting your imagination run wild and you're going to be very disappointed in 2025.

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