AI impact: Rethinking education and job training

Artificial intelligence is pervasive; every major category of technology now incorporates AI techniques and the trend is growing.

Although AI offers many benefits, risks and ethical issues abound. Despite having an enormous potential impact on society, jobs, and the economy, policymaking and educational planning have not kept pace with changes in technology, nor are we close to adopting updated legal frameworks.

Also: 13 AI trends that will reshape the economy in 2018 TechRepublic

Dr. Shirley Malcom is a respected and prominent educator who handles education policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is the world’s largest general scientific association and is best known for publishing Science magazine. Among her many honors, Shirley is a Regent of Morgan State University and on the Board of Trustees at Caltech. Education reform and worker re-training in the era of AI are crucial priorities for her.

The strength of her voice on these important topics made it easy to invite Shirley as a guest on episode 299 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world’s top innovators. I asked Shirley why education and job retraining are so important in our AI world today:

I worry about the preparation of the next generation to be able to move into the jobs of the future. I worry that whether we’re giving them the education that they need, whether we are providing for their parents, the training that they’re going to need for 21st-century jobs.

Are the skills ones that are available to them? Is the training available to them? That is something that we all have to be concerned about because we need the people to be able to handle this kind of technology involved workforce.

My guest co-host for episode 299 is Dr. David Bray, a frequent guest on CXOTalk and currently Executive Director of People-Centered Internet. David is a well-known subject-matter expert on issues related to AI and society. He is also associated with Harvard, on the faculty of Singularity University, and is a Marshall Memorial Fellow in Europe.

The AI-related social topics raised during this episode of CXOTalk are profoundly important. Watch the entire video conversation embedded above and read edited excerpts below. You can also see the complete transcript.

Michael Krigsman: Shirley, tell us about your background?

Dr. Shirley Malcom: I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I am, as they say, of a certain age. I’m over 70. Therefore, if you add all that together, you understand that, as a black female, I was raised in a segregated society. I went to poorly resourced, segregated schools.

I got caught up in the whole Sputnik thing when Sputnik went up in ’57. We heard about it in Birmingham, and so [laughter] we were captivated by the science and the things like this. So, I ended up going to college at the University of Washington in Seattle, a long way away from Birmingham.

Also, at that time, in very isolated kinds of settings, you know. Science was not necessarily something that women pursued, and there weren’t a lot of African-Americans around. So, everywhere I went — in school, in graduate school, and through my Ph.D. — I was not running into many people who looked like me.

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I started at a very basic base level and the rest of my career — heading education here at AAAS, being concerned about the diversity in the workforce, looking at larger issues of education policy and science and technology policy as it relates to the investment in research, in education — that built off of starting from a totally different field.

Could I have done this job without having a science background, without all of the other experiences that I went through? No way. I had to acquire not just book knowledge, but a set of experiences and interactions that would allow you to build a certain amount of reservoir of strategies that can lead you to be able to make good judgments.

I think that that’s the case with all of us. We are not where we started.

Michael Krigsman: Summarize the issues around AI and the workforce?

Dr. Shirley Malcom: Technology has always made changes in the workforce. This is something that we all agreed on. But, the question is, what are those changes? Are the people prepared to handle those changes? And, do those changes fall disproportionately on certain groups?

When we had technology moving into the office space, for example, we had a lot of what had been back-office work done away with because of the PCs and what have you that became available, and people were working very differently. So, there’s always a fear of the loss of jobs. But, in the particular case, it wasn’t necessarily the loss of all jobs. It meant a loss of certain kinds of jobs, and the reconfiguration of work so that the jobs that were there actually required more education and different kind of training. That’s the kind of concern that I have right now is how AI is applied and which parts of the workforce are likely to be affected as AI comes online in different kinds of sectors.

Dr. David Bray: Do we need to rethink education and four-year degrees?

Dr. Shirley Malcom: We have to reimagine education, totally, to address these issues. That means that you can’t just think that you’re going to solve this by putting somebody into a two-year training program. You have got to start their education earlier in ways that you’re not just focusing on silos. That you’re looking much broader regarding interdisciplinary topics, that you are using AI regarding informing us about what educational strategies we might need to employ or what particular patterns we may see concerning instruction and understanding. It’s incorporating it into education, per se, but it is also preparing people to deal with it regarding the way that we educate them.

Teachers who are coming into the schools need to be prepared differently at our universities. That means that you’ve got to back this all the way up into higher education to get the teachers who have the skillsets that can use, as they are working in a teaching and learning environment.

But, it also means that you have to help, I think, a larger community. The parents understand that this is very different from when they were in school. It’s going to require different kinds of instructional strategies, and it’s going to require that students aren’t just taught content. That they’re taught how to think about these issues and given the kind of larger skills that will allow them to continue to learn because it is going to be crucial that they continue to learn.

Also: AI is going to transform the pharmaceutical industry. Here’s how

One of the challenges, though, that I think is that we are not preparing people regarding those issues of identity, values, and things like this right now. When I think about the human genome project, by contrast, which, similarly, even though everybody is not running around doing your DNA, or aren’t they, we prepare people. We had a period where we talked about the ethical, legal, and social issues that were going to be coming down the line with this new thing where it would be possible to know whether or not you might be predisposed to certain kinds of cancers or other kinds of diseases. We had those conversations.

We aren’t having these kinds of conversations right now about AI. And so, that means that it’s going to come as a surprise to some people that in fact that this changes the way you have to think about work, that you can’t just basically sit back and rest on the last time you were in school, whatever that is. That might have been a Ph.D., but you can’t sit and rest on it. You have to continue to learn. That’s hard.

It’s not hard, to a certain extent, because I think that people are inherently curious. Therefore, it is possible to tee them up to get ready for this. But, on the other hand, that has to be validated. It has to be validated by your employers. It has to be validated by your union. It has to be validated by all of these other parts of society that right now there’s no conversation about this.

CXOTalk offers in-depth conversations with the world’s top innovators. Be sure to watch our many episodes! Thumbnail image Creative Commons by Franck V. on Unsplash.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure)

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Well-known expert on why IT projects fail, CEO of Asuret, a Brookline, MA consultancy that uses specialized tools to measure and detect potential vulnerabilities in projects, programs, and initiatives. Also a popular and prolific blogger, writing the IT Project Failures blog for ZDNet.