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Analysis and Synthesis -21st Century

How will artificial intelligence affect employment and education?

I’m skeptical of arguments that technology will have severe detrimental effects on employment for many reasons. But one reason is this: If artificial intelligence (AI) turns out to be as powerful as the worriers say, won’t it be good at finding new nonobvious tasks for humans and also training them for these new occupations?

An artificial Intelligence project utilizing a humanoid robot from French company Aldebaran and reprogramed for their specific campus makes its debut as an assistant for students attending Palomar College in San Marcos, California, REUTERS.

Long before we cross such a science fiction threshold, however, we are beginning to see how technology will improve employment opportunities. For example, in the latest in a long series of reports on the topic,Michael Mandel shows yet again how technology usually helps workers. In manufacturing, he laments, the labor share of value added declined from 61 percent in 1991 to just 46 percent in 2016. And yet in technology and telecom, industries that use information technology much more intensively, the labor share of value added rose from 45 percent to 51 percent. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly true that AI and other technologies will in fact make some jobs, perhaps many, obsolete. But we are starting to build the institutions needed to fill today’s jobs and mitigate future displacement. AEI’s John Bailey recently highlighted some of these efforts in US News & World Report:
Yes, some jobs will be eliminated as part of this wave of automation. But the more pressing threat is that the country is woefully unprepared to equip individuals with the skills required to fill millions of jobs that will either be created or already exist but will evolve. We already see glimpses of this within labor market and wage data. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 54 percent of small-business owners reported difficulty finding qualified workers. New jobs are also demanding higher levels of skills. The Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that over 95 percent of jobs created after the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education. That, in turn, is driving up wages for higher-skilled jobs. The average income difference between those who have a college degree and those who don’t has never been larger. That gap will widen unless our workforce system becomes more agile in responding to employer needs and more flexible in serving students across all ages and backgrounds. K-12 students will need multiple pathways to careers, not just college. Alex Hernandez, a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, comparesour current education system to a game of “Chutes and Ladders,” where career and technical education has been a chute, “an off-ramp for students who . . . were not succeeding in ‘traditional’ education.” Career and Technical Education should become an option for all students, not just for those that the system has sorted as not being ready for college. For example, Carmen Schools of Science & Technology offers career-preparation programs to all students. In addition to traditional high school classes, students can earn certifications and college credits and even participate in apprenticeships with local companies. Promising models like Kenzie are also worth considering. The new Indianapolis-based venture is creating a new type of program that combines work and school to teach nontechies, between the ages of 19 and 40, how to do software engineering. Students initially spend four hours a week learning programming, mostly through projects instead of lectures. At the end of six months, students will have enough training to be junior front-end developers, and then junior full-stack developers after another six months. Kenzie also offers a paid apprenticeship program where “Kenzie Studio Fellows” work on projects for companies. That’s important for giving students real-life work experience, but also in helping with student placement. A student could conceivably work for an employer for 18 months before being hired.
Bailey focuses on programs that can make the phrase “lifelong learning” a reality. But technology itself will be a big part of the equation. One of the chief uses of future technology will be in education and training. It will be a giant industry that helps remediate — and then perhaps disintermediate — our current educational system. We will depend on the very technologies that “destroy” jobs to mitigate the downside and to help build a far larger upside.
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