In the AI era, universities need to strengthen students’ creativity

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In the AI era, universities need to strengthen students’ creativity

Advances in artificial intelligence in the early 2010s, particularly in deep learning, triggered a new wave of panic and fear about technological unemployment. Further intensifying those fears were a host of sensational articles about the magical capabilities of AI algorithms and ambiguous statements by company executives creating the impression that human-level AI is just around the corner.

But the past few years have only highlighted the limits of current AI technologies. At the turn of the decade, as the world locked down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, we got to see whether the promises of artificial intelligence and robots replacing humans would materialize.

They didn’t.

But while AI isn’t ready to replace humans, there’s no denying that it will change the employment landscape, including areas that were previously considered to be off-limits for technology and automation. AI will not eliminate humans, but it will redefine the economy, creating many new jobs and making some of the old jobs obsolete or less dependent on human intelligence.

Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, a book by Northeastern University president Joseph E. Aoun, discusses how the universities and higher education institutions will have to adapt as “any predictable work—including many jobs considered ‘knowledge economy’ jobs” come within “the purview of machines.”

Aoun’s message: “to stay relevant in this new economic reality, higher education needs a dramatic realignment.” And in Robot-Proof, he provides a roadmap for developing a lifelong education system that will enable future generations to engage in not one but many professional careers throughout their lives.

What makes artificial intelligence different?

AI is not the first technology to change the way we work. The steam engine, electrical power, the telephones, railroad, automobile, airplane—these are some of the technological advances that brought fundamental change to human life and labor. In every case, human labor was replaced by a medium that could get the job done faster and more accurately.

In every instance, old jobs were destroyed as new ones were created. And while we humans are usually reluctant to embrace change, as history shows, we’ve always done what we’re good at: adapt. Within a generation or two, humans changed their habits and learned skills to harness the new technology and make their lives more efficient. The people of the mid-19th century couldn’t imagine a world lined with millions of miles of asphalt roads and fast-moving cars—we can’t imagine a world without them. In the 1960s, there was little trust for the first ATM machines. Today, there are millions of ATMs worldwide. Twenty years ago, there was no sign of Facebook and Twitter. Today, they’ve become fundamental pieces of the socioeconomic puzzle across the world.

But what makes artificial intelligence different is the pace of change it will bring. AI itself is not a product, but an infrastructural technology that will help accomplish a wide range of tasks. Stanford University professor and Coursera Founder Andrew Ng describes AI as the “new electricity.”

In the AI era, universities need to strengthen students’ creativity