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Building minds for an uncertain future? Nurturing care in early childhood is more important than ever
  1. Robert C Hughes1,
  2. Xanthe Hunt2,
  3. Mark Tomlinson2,3
  1. 1Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London, UK
  2. 2Institute for Life Course Health Research, Department of Global Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queens University, Belfast, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert C Hughes, Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London, London, UK;{at}

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Children born today inhabit a world which is more politically and climatically unstable than any in recorded history. Emerging technologies are rapidly and radically disrupting how societies function, and this is occurring in the context of climate-related disruption. To meet these changes with creativity and bravery, we need minds which are built for adaptation, collaboration and resilience. For decades, the science has been unequivocal that the foundations for such minds are laid in early childhood, making the case for increasing smart investment in the early years stronger than ever.

A changing world

Recent innovations including the launch of powerful artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT provide a glimpse into a very different future where machines increasingly take on tasks that were previously considered the preserve of humans. What these large language models and their successors mean for the near future of work remains uncertain, yet it is increasingly clear that these changes will be radical. Whole cadres of workers will work with, or be replaced by, machines. The prediction in 2017 that nearly 60% of all occupations are automatable, already looks potentially out of date.1 Contrary to early predictions, even some highly skilled jobs in law, journalism and medicine may disappear entirely and machines may also play increasing roles in child development and healthcare.2 Moreover, these technological shifts will occur against the backdrop of vast disruptions due to climate change and a breakdown of the planetary health systems on which human beings rely; changes likely to precipitate or exacerbate conflicts and displacement.3

The pace, scale and breadth of changes …

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  • Twitter @R_Hughes1, @xanthehunt, @markskeptic

  • Contributors RH and MT conceived the piece together. RH drafted the manuscript, which XH then edited, added to and commented on. All authors then reviewed and revised to finalise the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests RH has consulted for google/X, The Moonshot Factory, about emerging technologies and child health, and has been awarded research grants from Fondation Botnar, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Echidna Giving and the Wellcome Trust. He has received travel support/honoraria from, and is co-founder of Early Ideas, which is developing early childhood innovations. MT has received a grant from GCRF UK—for a workshop on novel measurement of child development.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.