Self-driving cars, robotics for milking cows, and apps on your smart phone are all technologies known as artificial intelligence (AI). Many duties for jobs such as bank tellers, truck drivers, lab technicians, receptionists, and cashiers are changing as this technology grows.
But will AI ever really replace people? That’s the question explored in a panel discussion at UPEI during Atlantic Canada Career Week. UPEI hosted a number of seminars and information sessions that urged students to explore new learning opportunities and new career developments on PEI and around the world.
UPEI faculty members discuss the trend of computers and artificial intelligence replacing workers now and in the future:
Greg Doran is Coordinator of Theatre Studies and Chair of the Department of English, UPEI.
“Many technologies have come and gone. The only constant with technology is change. The best way to prepare for a future made uncertain by technology is to get a liberal education, which is relevant to communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.”
He says rapid technological changes will make some careers obsolete by the time students graduate. “A liberal arts education does not come with an expiry date, and it will give you the tools to deal with whatever comes next.
“You need to have digital literacy, but you don’t have to know how to code. We should appreciate AI as a tool, not worry that we will lose our job to a robot.
“We need to consider the larger ethical decisions about the people who lose their jobs through automation. In the future, people will probably have many more careers in their lifetimes than their parents did. Critical thinking and learning how to learn are skills you will take with you after you graduate.”
Trung Dung Ngo is Associate Professor, Robotics and Automation, Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering, UPEI.
“I work on robots as assistive technology to help humans, not to replace humans. Robots are meant to serve people and to do dangerous tasks so that humans do not have to risk their lives.
“A few hundred years ago, most of the work our ancestors did was to produce food. Now, most people work at something else.
“Throughout history, as some jobs disappeared, many new types of jobs were created. What kinds of careers exist now and in the future, as computers and robots replace so many jobs? You can be the person who programs or builds the robots or writes the applications. Demand for more specialized jobs will continue to grow, so you need to watch where trends are going.
“AI is not something we should be threatened by. Computers can identify patterns much more easily and 3-D printing can produce results much more accurately than humans. But humans can solve problems and make cognitive decisions that robots cannot.”
Gary Evans is Associate Professor, Faculty of Business, UPEI.
“Technological change is replacing both low level and high-level jobs. For example, stock brokers, who have million-dollar jobs, are being replaced by computer algorithms. But AI is still at a very low level. It will not write the next Shakespearean play.”
He says technology is changing the nature of work. “Some jobs that are highly repetitious and can cause health issues are now being supplemented by technologies. For example, people don’t have to enter data anymore. Data can be collected automatically and turned into reports, but humans decide what to do with the information.
“I embrace technology, and I think in the future, work will be different in a really positive way. It’s about letting people do what they are good at: thinking outside the box and asking the hard questions. Technology is just a supplement.
“AI will change our lives radically, but if we see it in a positive light, it will be a positive change. We can all be creative problem solvers. I rank creativity as the most critical skillset. If you are creative, you will have a job for life.”
Bonnie Stewart is Assistant Professor of Online Pedagogy and Workplace Learning, Faculty of Education, University of Windsor, is a former Experiential Education and Adult Education Coordinator at UPEI. She joined the conversation via Skype.
“When it comes to AI, the popular narrative focuses on future innovation. No one wants to be left behind, but this creates stress – people feel that they must catch up and keep up to stay relevant.
“Another belief is that we need to teach every child how to code, or they will be unemployable. But will all future jobs be in coding? Coding jobs are increasingly precarious, and most coders are not the decision makers. We need to build human skills such as empathy and collaboration.
“To prepare for the future of work, take the time to understand how things operate. Learn how the Internet actually works. We can deal better with technology’s hold on us by understanding how to collaborate with people, make connections, and get your message out there. These skills can’t be replaced by automation.”