Monday, 27 May 2019

AI and the sky's a-falling 2

Jacobs (1890, p. 182)
I have written on this topic before (here), but thought I would touch on another couple of issues affected by AI. As the World Economic Forum report says, success in the fourth industrial revolution relies "on the ability of all concerned stakeholders to instigate reform in education and training systems, labour market policies, business approaches to developing skills" (2018, p. vii).

Firstly, AI is already with us (Grant, 2018). We can see it in our smartphones every day with voice recognition; when using GPS to map a route; when verifying our banking; when using online chat. It will just become more seamless, and therefore more pervasive. At work this could mean we can use our time more wisely in planning, and less time fire-fighting.

Health care and hospitality robots are a long way off yet. The complexity required to truly cover the range of human movements - required for work in human environments - is nowhere near at the standard required yet. Robots are also phenomenally expensive. The flexibility will increase and the cost will be driven down, but we are talking many more years for true commercialisation (Grant, 2018).

However, we are creating an underclass. There are people who are becoming less and less employable, with their skills getting increasingly out of step with what the world of work requires. The World Economic Forum state that "54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling. Of these, about 35% are expected to require additional training of up to six months, 9% will require reskilling lasting six to 12 months, while 10% will require additional skills training of more than a year" (2018, p. ix). Approximately 50% of future roles will require STEM qualifications (Grant, 2018). The big roles are predicted to be "Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists" (World Economic Forum, 2018, p. viii). If we do want to shift the power to the people, education is the key, and strong and robust science, technology, engineering or mathematics training is essential. Whether that is force-fed in schools, or whether we sow seeds and encourage bite-sized training later, more like apprenticeship block courses, will be up to our educators to choose, country by country. But they will each need to have a strategy.

Lastly, I would like to mention Finland. They are getting something really right in STEM education. Yes, they are pretty much mono-cultural, but we need to look carefully at what they are doing, and see if we can do it too. Finnish teenagers spend fewer hours doing homework than many nations (2.8 hours per week), play more, and have only one set of national qualification exams (World Economic Forum, 21 November 2016). Yet they have a 99% graduation rate (WorldTop20, n.d.), and score better in maths and science than the rest of us.

These are complex social and economic issues. But they are navigable providing we don't get into a mindset of "the sky's a-falling" (Jabobs, 1890, p. 182) over AI, and deal with the actual problems: education, dependency ratio, declining population and that AI will take time to evolve.


Sam

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