Machine learning, technological singularity, transhumanism… It’s hard to thumb through a paper without landing on an article that explores the future of artificial intelligence. Some are ecstatic, others profess a dystopian future worthy of the darkest fictions. Whatever the issues are with this technological revolution, some things are certain: the world is changing, progress is rapid and new technologies are merging and leveraging each other in unforeseen ways.
Beyond the multitude of existential and philosophical reflections prompted by this progress, artificial intelligence has become a hot topic of conversation and the profound changes it brings to the technological landscape are sure to raise pressing questions, especially where education and employment are concerned.
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Should humans be replaced by machine or should the machine be integrated into human activities in a complementary fashion? What is to be done with a workforce on the verge of becoming obsolete? What skills need to be developed? What will the jobs of tomorrow be?
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and scientific talking head, stated that “knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think”. And all the clues seem to point in that direction. More than pure knowledge (increasingly democratized by the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other autonomous learning solutions), it is important that the new generations be better prepared to become adaptable, agile and imaginative; to be taught non-linear thinking. They must learn to accomplish themselves, and then start over, again and again.
A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum states that the most searched for skills and competencies on the job market didn’t even exist until 10 years ago and that 65% of children who enter elementary school today will hold jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet. So then, how to prepare them?
In political and legislative circles, grasping the depth and impact of technological change is not an important enough consideration. Beyond domestic politics there are also geopolitical considerations and a constant search for economic supremacy (which illustrates the extent to which we are stuck in a paradigm of perpetual growth). All of which constitute important roadblocks on the path to a universal reflection to reduce inequality, restore nature’s dignity and preserve a sense of utility in a world where human progress aims to make humans useless.
Things are evolving fast and the subject fascinates a growing number of thinkers, futurists and entrepreneurs.
A lot of effort is being put into digitizing education so that it incorporates new technologies. The idea here is to make technology a tool for effective learning. In other words, how to deliver the current curriculum more efficiently. Certainly necessary, but is it sufficient? Probably not. Technologies used by or made available to students today are, for the most part, going to be obsolete by the time those same pupils enter the job market. And the jobs they will have (more efficiently) been training for will require other skills or will have simply disappeared.
The education market, however, has begun to show the first signs of a metamorphosis, but the task is colossal. When questioned on the subject, the author of “La Guerre des Intelligences” (The War of Intelligences), Laurent Alexandre, explains that education, with the help of artificial intelligence, will be able to respond to individuals based on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their personal interests. But for an investment estimated to be worth several billion Swiss francs, a sum that seems to be too ambitious for public education.
However, Alexandre does not believe that the traditional classroom and teacher-led methods will become obsolete. “I think the teacher has to be a leader and a storyteller; someone who makes you yearn for knowledge. We cannot be taught without a mediator. I cannot imagine that anything other than a human being is capable of creating a hunger for knowledge and inspiring younger generations”, he explained in an interview with the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). His vision of the classroom of the future is a program that “alternates computer-based teaching and group work under teacher supervision”.
In terms of the educational skills that need to be taught to the next generation to prepare them for their technological futures, it is a comforting thought to know that although we cannot predict the future needs of the labor market, we can be relatively confident that artificial intelligence will not be able to replace humans in the next few decades. For example, working in a multidisciplinary and transversal way, to show the ability to think critically and to apply what Alexandre calls “common sense”. These are the attributes of a great leader and the dynamics he or she is able to establish within their team, or, as he explains: “to approach a problem from several angles, to transfer knowledge from one area to another, and to succeed in working as a team”.
“The manager’s role will be to manage a complex ensemble of human and artificial intelligences to solve problems that will become increasingly complex.” Laurent Alexandre
What emerges from this sort of thinking is that repetitive, linear work will, unsurprisingly, become the work of machines and in order to articulate, potentiate and exploit the full power of a new algorithmic universe, the world will require a new breed of managers, the proportion of whom is destined to increase within businesses. It is these new managers who will have the ability to “deal with a complex subject, set up an ad hoc team, and solve it with the support of artificial intelligence”, explains Laurent Alexandre.
Service jobs will see themselves divided into two distinct camps: on one hand, the high-end, which will integrate artificial intelligence’s “back-office” applications, allowing for greater automation and data management aimed at customizing services, always with a lot of human interaction. On the other hand, the low-end will have a tendency to sacrifice experience and will reduce costs much to the detriment of human staff, explained Alexandre.
Students from EHL, for example, who are recruited by private banks, luxury brands and other service-oriented businesses, will act as a link between an improved customer service experience and personalized service. Laurent Alexandre elaborates: “EHL graduates are not threatened by Artificial Intelligence, since they are engaged at very high-end, high-skilled level and are trained as managers.” Basically there will be a huge difference in the level of automation between five star hotels, whose guests are looking for an exceptional experience and service, and McDonald’s where the keyword is efficiency and the customer’s first priority is the price.
Finally, we find ourselves in a situation where the creation of a skilled workforce equipped for the challenges of the future is more important than ever. For economies with an adequate social safety net, the transition may be painful but possible with the rehabilitation of an obsolete workforce. However, certain countries with austere social security, risk facing a real social catastrophe with dizzying unemployment rates, if this shift is not well negotiated. The challenge of training is unprecedented. It is essential to innovate today to create the new skills and education of tomorrow.