Education will be the first step towards an AI-powered society (Credits: Atelier BNP Paribas)

Learning to Learn to Survive the AI Revolution

Rethinking our education system could be a critical step in the frantic race towards a society empowered by artificial intelligence.

Andrew Ng is one of the big names in the field of artificial intelligence nowadays. Former chief scientist for the Chinese giant Baidu and founder of the Coursera MOOC platform, he is now full professor at Stanford university. In one of his most recent interviews, professor Ng compared the impact of AI on our society with the one electricity had on the pre-industrial world.

“Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years,” — Andrew Ng, Professor at Stanford University

But yet another parallel that can be drawn between the current state of AI and the electricity revolution of 19th century: one more time in the history of humankind, millions of people will possibly lose their jobs in a short lapse of time.

According to statistics, 47% of US job could be automated in the next 20 years (source, Credits: Forbes)

However, even though the AI industrial revolution is expected to match the size of its predecessors, there is one crucial aspects that makes it quite unique: instead of replacing workers’ practical abilities with machinery, we are now trying to mimic their skill-sets and decision-making processes using dedicated software.

This will have the obvious consequence of making the contribution of workers with an easy-to-learn job superfluous, or even detrimental for their employers.

With this perspective in mind, the reaction of people who oppose the advances in the field of artificial intelligence may appear as quite justified. The polarization of the labor market of recent years, which reflects the widening gap between rich and poor, seems to be yet another argument in favor of the thesis that artificial intelligence is the definitive way to exacerbate the social differences that are already dividing us.

My suggestion is to counter these fear-mongering campaigns with the rationality and adaptability that have always characterized our kind. While ensuring an ethical development of new technologies is critical at this time, trying to stop the paradigm shift towards an AI-powered society is totally pointless. We should not be afraid of the changes that artificial intelligence promises to introduce into society, but rather embrace their long-term positive consequences while trying to mitigate the short-term negative ones.

Then, how should one go about minimizing negative impacts of AI on the labor market? I asked this very question at the Responsible AI Forum of Montreal in November 2017, and the experts’ response was unanimous: in a world where transverse knowledge is getting more and more important, continuous education will be one of the best tools in our possession to allow workers to stay competitive.

“Learning to learn should be one of the most important issues in the field of education nowadays” — Louise Béliveau, vice-rector of University of Montreal

Jodie Wallis, managing director of AI Canada Accenture, made a few important claims during her introductory speech at the same event. Notably, she affirmed that by 2020, more than one third of the industry would be centered on technologies that has yet to be developed. This implies that a vast majority of today’s children will work on jobs that are yet to be conceived.

In this context, it is easy to see why fostering a new culture of lifelong learning will be crucial in the next decades. Companies and governments will have to embrace their role of facilitators in this process, focusing their efforts on the teaching of critical thinking, creativity and human-machine interactions in order to stay competitive and appealing.

Jack Ma, CEO at the Chinese giant Alibaba, on the importance of soft skills in education

To resume my thinking, AI could increase inequalities for companies and individuals which won’t be able to adapt in time, as many other innovations before had. The only way to get sustainable gains is to improve human capability, empowering workers with a new mindset that will make them extremely adaptive to change. For this reason, I and many others believe that a radical rethinking of our education system is essential at this point to allow a positive transition towards the new intelligence revolution.

If you liked my article, please consider following my Medium blog A Tale of Men and Machines. I write about new technologies and their impact on our society.

You can also subscribe to be notified when a new article is ready! :-)