The pervasive influence of artificial intelligence (AI) in our daily lives mandates preparing our labor force for an AI-powered economy. This calls for the re-evaluation of educational priorities.
According to a report by G2 Crowd released in February 2017, there’s a real talent drain on tech skill sets. 81% of hiring managers say the problem would only intensify. 65% were of opinion that recruiting and hiring would continue to become more difficult. The report emphasizes the point that IT and highly skilled specialists are the most difficult job vacancies to fill.
Part of the issue is due to business transformation happening as a direct result of digitization. There are new skill-set requirements for jobs supporting new business models. There are new technologies that need people to use. Advanced IoT and AI capabilities are taking over the routine works. AI-powered automation, embedded AI, autonomous vehicles, virtual assistants, smart cities, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are right here.
How AI is Evolving
AI has become an integrated part of technology and innovation’s fabric. It’s offering more than just Alexa and Siri. A few recent achievements include:
- Google DeepMind’s ALphaGo is a first AI program to defeat the world champion Lee Sedol at Go four out of five times
- IBM’s Watson and its counterpart MIT’s AI2 are cybersecurity projects aiming to replace security analysts
- Universe by Elon Musk’s OpenAI is redefining the way AI professionals evaluate and train intelligent agents across games, websites and applications
Developments in natural language processing (NLP) and computer vision are also making it easier to interact, communicate, and automate processes with digital systems.
- Google’s Show and Tell neural image caption generator is a TensorFlow implementation of the image-to-text model
- Google’s Wavenet project is capable of producing speech that mimics human voice which sounds more natural than existing text-to-speech systems
- My Text in Your Handwriting can mimic your handwriting
- Russian software FindFace is capable of recognizing faces in photos
Even in medicine, AI is proving to be revolutionary in the following ways:
- Lumiata developed predictive analytics tools that can formulate a diagnosis. It crafts future predictions related to symptoms, diagnoses, procedures, and medications for an individual or group of patients
- Pathway Genomics‘ A.I. forebrain, OME™ and IBM Watson combines genetics, test results, health records, wearables, general reimbursement information and health and wellness data, to provide patients tailored health recommendations
- Ginger.io is developing an app to provide mental health treatments
- AiCure is an app using facial recognition technology to determine if a patient is on her medication schedule
- NextIT is developing conversational AI technologies, including a digital health guide and counselor
AI-driven innovations will be a part of our social fabric. For the next generation, AI will be more than a mere tool; AI will be their co-worker and an integral part of their lives.
AI Effects on the Current Economy Jobs
Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne in 2013 conducted a study regarding computerization of 702 occupations. It was found out that 47% of the workers had their jobs at high risk of automation. Transportation, logistics, office support, sales, and services were facing high risk. We are confronted with a severe job polarization. Middle-skill jobs are declining, and both low-skill and high-skill jobs are expanding, which is an indicator of the skill-set shift.
The skills and professions that are safe from AI are those which are highly skilled/non-routine, creative or require a human touch — roles filled by creative professionals, nurses, baristas, beauticians, physical therapists, dentists, personal trainers, and firefighters, among others.
Just as people worry about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles today, a century ago there were individuals and businesses concerned about the implications of the switch from horses to cars. What happened was that a whole new industry boomed. No doubt horse-related professions shrunk, but an entirely new range of occupations emerged. Rather than destroying jobs, automation redefined them, and in ways that reduced costs and boosted demand. This led to the creation of new opportunities.
Similarly, AI is increasing capability, capacity, and efficiency. It will not only help fill in where there is a shortage of specialists, it will also redefine job requirements. It will require workers to learn new skills. Autonomous vehicles will give people more time to consume goods and services, which will ultimately increase demand elsewhere in the economy. Additionally, autonomous vehicles will drive the increase in demand for delivery of products, such as food and household items.
The notion that there is only a finite number of jobs and AI will make people irrelevant is erroneous and illogical. Rather than fretting about AI, the more productive next step is to prepare the next generation to steward friendly AI that will co-exist with humans.
Do We Have Adequate Number of AI Professionals?
In today’s labor market, there is a dearth of highly skilled professionals including AI developers, data scientists, cybersecurity experts, and other specialists.
It takes time for processes to change, standards to emerge, and people to learn new skills. To use AI and data analytics efficiently and effectively, we need to train today’s labor force and the coming generation.
Human society’s evolution revolves around teaching and learning. But our current school curriculum isn’t reflecting the Fourth Industrial Revolution in robotics, AI, and other emerging technologies. We need to engage students and working professionals in concepts, discussions, and concerns related to AI. Basic introduction to these topics can start as early as middle school.
Making It Approachable
AI needs to be demystified to make it approachable. Students and professionals should realize the scope of its capacity. We are far from general artificial intelligence (GAI/AGI). They should not be afraid of it. They need to understand what it can and cannot do and to comprehend how much of the economy is vulnerable to it. AI will automate tasks but will not replace holistic human jobs, rather intelligent systems will work alongside humans.
Many of the tools used today are built with AI capabilities. People are interacting with AI throughout the day, often without knowing it.
People design AI systems by carefully decomposing a problem into many small problems. These smaller subsets then communicate to each other with their solutions. The program divides the photo into chunks, sends them into the cloud, analyzes them to determine their probable meaning and translates the analysis into a set of search queries and results. Millions of possible answers to those inquiries are sorted and ranked. Due to the scalability of the cloud, this all happens only in a few dozen milliseconds. Many components and waveform analysis are used to interpret the photo or teach a machine how to recognize it. It isn’t rocket science, but unfamiliarity makes it sound like magic.
Training CS Teachers
Even if we make AI approachable to students and professionals, there is a shortage of skilled teachers who are trained in AI and computer science (CS). More computer science students must get into teaching computer science. More online learning, open source libraries, and auto-programming AI systems will emerge to assist with teaching but the human element in teaching and coaching students cannot be easily replaced.
Microsoft took the initiative in training teachers and sponsored the TEALS program, which pairs up the computer science professionals with high school teachers for a few hours a week. The University of Texas’ Uteach program is also undertaking great efforts in preparing STEM teachers.
Along with ramping up teachers’ training, the curriculum must also evolve. Computer science is as vital as general science, mathematics, arts, liberal studies, and writing. STEM serves as a multi-disciplinary foundation for nurturing creative CS professionals.
We should also update the way programming is taught. It’s a creative activity, which if taught correctly can be fun and rewarding. Inquiry-based or project-based activities and courses should be crafted for kids at K-8 level. Kids love exploring and playing with coding languages such as Snap! and MIT Scratch.
A basic computer programming course should be compulsory at the 9th-grade level and up. Schools should provide electives such as robotics, computational math, computational art, neural networks, deep learning, and data analytics. Where funding is scarce, some communities have created parent networks and clubs to teach kids these important skills.
Streams of mathematics such as statistics, probability, graph theory, and logic should form the core in courses for tomorrow’s data-driven workforce. Data analysis and machine learning require statistics and probability.
Ethics also deserve more attention as AI technologies face ethical dilemmas. For example, how to remove prejudices related to race, religion, sexuality, gender, and geography from automated responses.
It requires a set of skills that go beyond programming, such as psychology, philosophy and design thinking skills. It’s similar to decision-making in an autonomous vehicle (AV). In the case of an imminent accident, what decision must the car make? Should it protect its occupants, or is it is obligated to keep death toll minimum even if it had to choose against its occupants? How does the machine decide?
This brings us to the importance of diversity in the spread of AI. Involvement of every field of life is integral to its success. It’s not just for computer scientists or software developers but also relevant to administration, healthcare, and other areas.
In AI related work, people build teams, work in teams, and integrate solutions developed by other groups. To teach students about working cooperatively in teams, we should emphasize on the skills that encourage problem-solving and task delegation.
Diversification will also aid the field of computer science by encouraging more students to consider computer science as a career. Engineering intelligence into systems and finding revelations in an ocean of data are tasks that require a diverse workforce.
Amazon’s Career Choice program is a great initiative to involve workers from every field in IT. Other corporations need to follow suit. The program helps the employees from different departments to get the skills necessary for a high-demand field. Coursera, Codeacademy, Big Data University, and Microsoft’s edX are trying to overcome tech skill shortage by making their massively open online courses available to everyone.
Appreciation of Human Qualities
As AI has already taken over routine information and manual tasks, we also need to put emphasis on qualities that differentiate human workers from AI. These qualities include creativity, adaptability, and interpersonal skills or more broadly human-to-human empathy skills. We must strive to instill these qualities in our coming generation.
Governments need to regulate the process and provide standards driving K-12 computer science education, along with courses and highly trained computer science teachers that are bound to those criteria. For now, The Computer Science Teachers Association is promulgating a standards framework and an interim set of standards.
Many countries are aware of the situation and taking steps to overcome the skill gap. For example, Israel has integrated computer science into its pre-college curriculum. UK’s Computing at School program has made great progress. Germany and Russia are also taking initiatives. In the US, “Computer Science for All initiative,” “TechHire Initiative,” and national strategic plan for artificial intelligence research and development are trying to tackle the situation. Dr. Rand Hindi, CEO of Snips is also collaborating with a government research group to prepare France for AI.
It’s evident that artificial intelligence is gradually taking the pole position in business strategies and innovation, the job landscape is also changing along with it. Development of a specific skill-set or, even better, focusing on teaching our kids how to learn new skills should be the highlight of our educational goals.