Above image: A 3D printer works in Elon’s Makerhub (Photo by Alex Hager)
by Alex Hager
A report released by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center found that most experts predict that education and job training will change in the next decade to exploit artificial intelligence (AI) and new virtual and augmented reality tools. The report, released on May 3, also found that some fear businesses prioritizing a bottom line will implement AI, algorithms and software to replace humans in some jobs.
“People do believe that we need to train to race with the robots,” said Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center. “That means we need to prepare ourselves to work along with AI and other digital tools. It will be important for us to be adaptable, resilient, to be able to work in teams.”
Like Anderson, many of the report’s respondents emphasized the importance of skills like adaptability, as well as judgement and empathy. Some of those surveyed also stressed the importance of practical skills, such as training to work alongside data and algorithms.
Much of the report’s focus was on the role of education and training in the future. Seventy percent of those polled thought that new educational methods and approaches would emerge and be successful in making a college education relevant and valuable.
Ashley Pinney, Associate Director of Corporate and Employer Relations for Elon’s School of Communications, often thinks about how a college education will translate to valuable skills that might entice employers. She believes that attending college will help people acquire intangible skills, just as it always has.
“College teaches you to able to think critically, question everything, and go in depth on why things are the way they are,” said Pinney.
Beyond critical thinking skills, Pinney thinks that being around people from different backgrounds and learning from them will still bear value.
“As humans, we have different backgrounds and beliefs and morals, being with these people you learn from them,” said Pinney. “A robot who didn’t grow up with a family, didn’t walk a dog, didn’t garden plants, how do you teach how care about other things or learn how to interact with humans and other creatures”
Sajnee Thakkar, an Elon freshman who worked with some AI programs through a Kickbox grant from the Makerhub, isn’t worried about the impact AI will have on the job market.
“I definitely think that there are places where AI will take over for humans,” said Thakkar. “But that’s been happening forever. If you look at any machinery, it took over for something humans used to have to do. This has been a concern for longer than people realize. With artificial intelligence, it’s like that but to a heightened degree. Yeah, it’ll put some people out of jobs, but it clears up time for humans to go further and push ourselves to achieve more.”
The report identified some key themes in an analysis of the collective response. Some of the themes addressed the training and education world’s need to innovate and integrate with AI and augmented reality. Another key takeaway indicated that those training and learning systems will not meet 21st century needs by 2026. Another found that technological forces may fundamentally change work and the economic landscape, potentially changing capitalism as we know it.
“The ‘jobs of the future’ are likely to be performed by robots,” said Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at cloud services company Mimecast, in the report. “The question isn’t how to train people for nonexistent jobs, it’s how to share the wealth in a world where we don’t need most people to work.”