Dr Vivienne Ming challenges ideas about bias and the human potential in education and the workplace. Her research and tools involving machine learning, neuroscience, sociocultural interventions, and behavioral economics help us better explore the future of human potential.
Science has had a tremendous impact on life outcomes, from nutrition and medicine to education and productivity gains. One of the goals at Socos Labs is to look at the connection between children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and long term outcomes such as health, wealth, happiness, and many other qualities of a good life.
The kind of qualities researched in children (and adults on workforce development) have always had large impacts on life outcomes, perhaps all throughout human history. The research literature is filled with examples of profoundly impactful interventions, ranging from stress reduction to reading promotion to mindset and resilience development. Some interventions as simple as games for parents to play with their kids can significantly affect life-outcomes. We refer to these collectively as meta-learning, the collection of changeable factors in individuals that predict (and likely drive) life outcomes such as metacognition, general cognitive ability, socioemotional competence, creativity, and curiosity. Research has, and continues to demonstrate the significant benefits of shifting away from solely teaching a particular body of knowledge to focusing on meta-learning.
Typically though, these meta-learning qualities have not always been easy to measure or to change across a broad population of people. Some of us are very fortunate to grow up in households with the socioeconomic foundation or simple fortunate role-modeling to help develop these qualities, but regardless of where we came from in life, these cognitive and social-emotional factors have always been meaningful. In those cases where we and others had the ability to intervene at an individual child level, the impact on their long-term gains has often been dramatic and well-rounded.
Over many years of research and development, Socos Labs developed Muse, an app and SMS system for family-focused development of children’s life outcomes. Muse helps parents support their child’s unique meta-learning development — cognitive, social, creative, emotional, and meta-cognitive growth — by offering detailed, research-supported activities that foster each child’s unique long-term development. Employing novel machine learning behind the scenes, the individually targeted, daily messages draw from decades of peer-reviewed research on life outcomes and child development alongside the analysis of over 100 million working professionals.
The goal of Muse is not simply to improve the life outcomes of individual children, but to have a community-wide impact. At Socos Labs, the work of economists like James Heckman and Raj Chetty are combined with intervention studies into 35 different meta-learning constructs to model the hypothetical impact of meta-learning interventions they had started 25 years ago. Factors such as socioeconomic demographics and regional differences had to be taken into account to reflect the differential impact of interventions in the research literature. In our model, it was assumed a fixed annual cost based on the under-12 population of the US, finding nearly immediate savings on the cost of education and healthcare, which continued to produce returns regardless of market fluctuation. Eventually, the empirically reported productivity increases to accelerate the returns. Overall, these changes would result in US$1.3 to 1.8 trillion (+10 percent) added to the US economy each year. Even more startling, applying the same model to South Africa suggested annual economic gains of 60 percent, and 110 percent in India. Both the New America Foundation and McKinsey have also modeled the impact of improved educational equality, and their results, US$1 trillion and US$2 to 4 trillion, respectively, strongly supporting this detailed analysis.
There are many influences on children’s development and life outcomes: genetics, culture, socioeconomic status, nutrition, parental role-modeling, friendship networks, and so much more. None of these influences define an entire person. What we are focus on in the work at Socos Labs are those things that can be changed, often under the influence of parents, schools, and other role models, and how technology can play a role in literally building better people.
Dr Vivienne Ming is the co-founder and managing partner of Socos Labs, a think tank exploring the future of human potential.