Dr. Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University and a higher ed futurist, was recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education for this article, Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace. He also just came out with a new book, check out the trailer for it. It’s called “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”.
Quotes from Aoun and my reactions:
|Dr. Aoun stated: “Because for all of their dazzling power, machines are incapable of plucking inspiration from the subconscious, forming a new theory of physics after seeing an apple fall to the ground, or seizing a window of opportunity to start a business. Those sorts of cognitive abilities are impervious to automation. They are, indeed, robot-proof.”|
|My response: Robots simply follow a set of instructions that computers can understand. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not yet sentient. In fact, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that “Sentient machines may never exist, according to a variation on a leading mathematical model of how our brains create consciousness.” Regardless, computers are much more efficient than humans in performing certain calculations, for example the product of 1,312 and 55,000. Type that into any calculator and it’ll pop right up as 72160000. Most humans wouldn’t be able to read that number without the commas, let alone solve that problem in their head!
Takeaway: Regardless of how slow firing neurons, we are the ones who build the calculators.
|“Given a world in which machines will perform much of what we view as knowledge work, colleges will have to reduce their emphasis on knowledge transfer, and pivot to building students’ capacity for coming up with original ideas.”|
|My thoughts: The human brain is capable of creativity, but it can only hold about 7 pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. If you want to extend your short term memory beyond the 30 seconds it takes to forget something new, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. What’s the point of remembering facts if you can look up the answers on Google? Knowledge is about understanding the answers that can’t be found on Wikipedia.
In order to remain competitive in the age of the autonomous robot workforce, people must continually learn creative skills that cannot be replicated by machines. Machines are extremely efficient. But humans can innovate big ideas that can change the world:
Takeaway: Convenience and creativity are truly driving the economy these days. Meanwhile, those who don’t adapt, fade into memory. We miss you Blockbuster.
|“College should prepare students for meaningful occupations. If workers are fast becoming irrelevant, then how and why should we educate them?”|
|My reaction: The answer to this question scares me. IS THERE going to be a demand for workers? The glory days of high pay, low skill jobs are gone. 30 years ago if you didn’t go to college, no big deal. You went and worked at car manufacturing plant or a steel mill and you had a great full time job to earn a decent living. These days, it’s not so simple…
Counterarguments left in the article’s comments:
- “Until someone can convince me that creativity will one day be as in-demand, economically, as labor has been up to this point, I cannot see the automated future as anything but a life sentence for my own children.”
- “The author is being idealistic. The reality is that there will be a new economy the haves and the have nots. The more jobs that are taken the more poverty is going to increase. The rich don’t really give a hoot and if robots are cheaper than hiring people well guess what no more jobs.”
Agreed! The disparity and unequal distribution of wealth may soon reach critical mass. How can a growing population support a new and untested economic model. Unemployment in 2017 is nearly 5%. It’s scary to think about what happens if that number doubles or quadruples.
Technology and machines have destroyed and created jobs over time.
About 100 years ago, most people were farmers. Now less than 1% of US workers are in farming jobs. There’s been a lot of change in the demand for certain types of workers. Currently, more than half of jobs worked in the US are white collar jobs.
My final thoughts:
Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Meaning the computational tools we build make us perform certain tasks better than any person could do without the technology. Humans and technology, when used properly, have the potential to change the world in countless positive ways.
Questions to ponder:
- As computers get smarter and more ubiquitous, how do you think the modern workforce will change?
- What jobs will not be automated?
- Should governments consider modifying laws to regulate the usage of robotics to ensure human workers are not displaced?
- How can we better prepare students to compete with robotics and AI for high paying jobs?