Will the Workforce of the Future Have to Adapt to Robots and AI?

First it was business, then it was psychology but, soon, the most popular college major could be something never before considered an important or teachable subject matter: robot proofing.  

As the use of artificial intelligence rises (AI), some experts in the field believe that the emphasis on traits such as compassion, affection and creativity for human workers will have to increase as well. As the debate around robots and AI continues to grow, more and more researchers and educators believe the teaching of these traits should be featured subjects in any classroom.

In the future, will humans have to learn to adapt to robots?

The Problem

Millions of blue-collar and white-collar workers feel their jobs threatened by what they concieve will be a robot takeover. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted that 10% of all U.S jobs are at high risk for automation. And it’s not just workers who are feeling an impending doom. According to millionaire Mark Cuban, when choosing a college major, students should lean towards areas of discipline that are least likely to be dominated by artificial intelligence. Some just view this as a moral panic generated by scientists and engineers, but others believe that in just a few years thousands of jobs will be replaced by robots and AI’s who can do those jobs quicker and for an exponentially cheaper price. Entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk even says that there will soon have to be a universal basic income to compensate for the loss in wages for humans.

Northeastern University’s President Joseph Aoun believes that there is a solution to this panic and it falls into the hands of leaders in higher education. The solution is not an overnight fix. In fact, it’s a lifelong process.

What Does it Mean to be “Robot Proof”?

The term “robot proof,” was first coined by Aoun in his 2017 book “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” This term, according to Aoun, refers to the ways in which we can start to educate the next generation of students to strengthen the traits that even the most developed robots cannot duplicate.

These traits include creativity, sympathy and mental elasticity – traits that help to maintain human life. As powerful and efficient as robots can be, they lack the skills to be entrepreneurial, culturally agile and innovative. In parallel with this idea, Cuban encourages students to choose majors in the liberal arts that stress personal judgement, creativity and critical thinking. Although these may be the majors that have the lowest job prospects, they will be the jobs that survive the longest, Cuban believes.

As technology advances and the capabilities of machines intensify, it’s important for humans to maintain their uniqueness. So, how can this be done? Aoun has an idea – it’s called “Humanics.”

The Teaching of Humanics

The curriculum of Humanics relies on the innate strengths that come with being human. The three literacies that Aoun says the curriculum should entail are data literacy, technological literacy, and human literacy. On top of that, he believes that there are four essential cognitive capabilities that all students must develop in order to be superior to artificial intelligence in their career. These four “mindsets” are: critical thinking, systems thinking, entrepreneurship, and cultural agility. Aoun considers these to be mindsets rather than areas of knowledge because humans will always need to specialize in certain bodies of knowledge, but in the future, it will be important to have a higher, more sophisticated order of thought or mindsets.

“Together, the new literacies and the cognitive capacities integrate to help students rise above the computing power of brilliant machines by engendering creativity,” Aoun states in his book. “In doing so, they enable them to collaborate with other people and machines while accentuating the strengths of both. Humanics can, in short, be a powerful toolset for humanity.”

Raising Doubt

A concern raised in this area of debate is the question of how it’s possible to teach someone traits that exist implicitly. Sure you can teach someone to be more patient or polite, but aren't empathy, creativity, sympathy, etc. more innate traits? Do you either have these traits or not?

Aoun’s response is straightforward: “Empathy is not something that is set once for life. I personally discover it and rediscover it constantly. That’s the beauty of it.”

While some may be skeptical, other’s believe that this is in fact the key to becoming “robot-proof.”

But, could this just be the natural progression of things? In the same way that computers brought an end to the the typewriting industry and cars terminated the horse and carriage industry, robots and AIs might just be the next step in advancing and modernizing our world.

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