A brief look at recent headlines regarding the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs would concern anyone:
The Impact of Artificial Intelligence – Widespread Job Losses
The Question with AI Isn’t Whether We’ll Lose Our Jobs — It’s How Much We’ll Get Paid
Will Robots and AI Take Your Job? The Economic And Political Consequences of Automation
You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—and Sooner Than You Think
There is no doubt that the current and near-future state of artificial intelligence (AI) is causing reflection and prognostication across the world. Though experts differ about what they expect the impact on employment to be, most everyone agrees that AI is a “game changer.”
AI is making exponential advances. It has become very good at simple “if/then” decisions. For example, your cell phone’s photo program likely has the ability to search for “cat” pictures because the program has access to a huge database of identified animals and is therefore able to compare your pictures to that database. By comparing your picture to tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of other pictures, the program will usually make the correct identification. This type of simple analysis, while immensely useful for some work, also has a couple of large limitations.
First, a massive amount of data is required to answer a simple question. This initial collection takes a great deal of time, space and energy, and it is subject to bias and error—at least in the beginning. Second, much of what humanity does cannot be accomplished using “if/then” analysis. Professor Andrew Ng, of Stanford, has developed a rule of thumb to help determine whether or not a specific job is likely to be automated: “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.”
This means we will likely see such jobs as receptionists, telemarketers, proofreaders, couriers and cashiers become automated very soon. (A recent demonstration of the Google Assistant made obvious that AI can make appointments very capably, albeit a bit creepily.)
However, there are many skills that computers may never be able to master. We need to foster these skills in today’s students. They include:
Communication and Empathy—Artificial intelligence is now being used to analyze and detect certain types of cancer. However, I think few of us would appreciate being notified by that AI that we have cancer. Those jobs that require the use of complex skills such as reading body language, speaking reassuringly, eye contact, etc., will not soon be replaced by AI.
Critical Thinking—Simple “if/then” algorithms are insufficient for the numerous “trust your gut” real-world situations humans often find themselves in. Numbers may form the basis of a good decision, but in the real world, they are rarely the last word. They need to be tempered with human knowledge that sees more than the numbers.
Strategy—Related to critical thinking, is strategy. While AI can be helpful in the “how” of doing things more efficiently, it really is not very helpful in responding to the “why.” Humans thought is needed to develop goals, look at the big picture and build a system to review the goals.
Creativity—Current technology does not allow true creativity. While some computers can imitate art or music, and even come up with new recipes, they are not truly the result of creativity. They are primarily the result of simply sampling previous works and deriving something else. While some might argue that many artists do the same thing, truly great artists bring originality to their art.
Imagination and Vision—Closely related to creativity is imagination. Can you imagine (no pun intended) entrepreneurs, theologians, authors or futurists arriving via AI? At least for now, these roles and many others seem to require qualities artificial intelligence is unlikely to develop soon.
Management and Upkeep of Technology—As of today, robots can’t really take care of themselves. The networking, upgrading and physical connections all require human intervention.
Physical Skills—Our bodies are incredibly flexible and diverse in their abilities. A simple skill such walking involves an amazing amount of coordination of muscles, nerves and balance to move at a natural gait. While AI is making progress (I recently read an article about a robot-made hamburger), the simple physicality of human existence is not likely to allow robotization soon.
The fact that these traits will be needed for the foreseeable future help us understand what our classrooms need to be. We will continue to teach the basics, for they are the foundation of thought. However, the above “soft skills” must also be emphasized so that we can keep our robot overlords in their proper place!