Computational Thinking: Data Based Reasoning for the Future

According to the Institute For The Future (IFTF) Future Work Skills report, computational thinking is among the 10 top skills that will be needed for success in 2020.

The IFTF defines computational thinking as the “ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data based reasoning.”

Computational thinking writer and pioneer Stephen Wolfram highlights the need for computational reasoning skills, especially among kids today. He believes that while we are currently focused on teaching traditional mathematical thinking to kids, in the future it’s going to be far more important that children learn about computational thinking than the mathematics of today.

Wolfram believes many professions that currently don’t require computational thinking will evolve over the next few years to include computational thinking skills. This includes a diverse range of occupations like doctors, teachers, farmers and lawyers.

The definition of computational thinking according to Wolfram is based on the ability to formulate ideas systematically and clearly enough to be able to tell a computer how to do them. Under this definition, learning how to talk to computers using their language is a key part of developing any kind of computational competence, but it’s not just about learning to code.

Wolfram is so passionate about teaching computational thinking skills to both adults and kids that he has developed his own language, the Wolfram language, that’s designed to be easy to learn and can be used for a whole range of different purposes.

Computational thinking can be used across different industries for activities like simulations, which are used increasingly to make decisions or come up with solutions to difficult problems. Those who have the ability to think computationally, and have basic programming skills will have access to a huge amount of data and information that will give them a significant advantage over workers who are not able to do this.

In spite of the many benefits of computational thinking, the IFTF cautions us that we need to be aware of its limitations. Computer based models rely on data to provide their solutions and answers, and if the data is poor quality, the end result will be inaccurate.

The IFTF also believes it’s important that we don’t rely too heavily on computational thinking to the point where we are unable to act without it. Part of the computational skill set includes being able to think independently and exercise discernment when using computational methods of reasoning.