Jobs and training in a world of AI and virtual reality

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality are here to stay, but what impact will they have on jobs and training?

A new study by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked more than 1,400 technologists, futurists and scholars whether well-prepared workers be able to keep up in the race with artificial intelligence tools, and what impact this development will have on market capitalism.

According to Elon University, most of the experts said they hope to see education and jobs-training ecosystems shift in the next decade to exploit liberal arts-based critical-thinking-driven curriculums; online courses and training amped up by artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality; and scaled-up apprenticeships and job mentoring.

However, some expressed fears that education will not meet new challenges or — even if it does — businesses will implement algorithm-driven solutions to replace people in many millions of jobs, leading to a widening of economic divides and capitalism undermining itself.

An analysis of the overall responses uncovered five key themes:

  1. The training ecosystem will evolve, with a mix of innovation in all education formats. For instance, more learning systems will migrate online and workers will be expected to learn continuously. Online courses will get a big boost from advances in augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
  2. Learners must cultivate 21st century skills, capabilities and attributes such as adaptability and critical thinking.
  3. New credentialing systems will arise as self-directed learning expands.
  4. Training and learning systems will not be up to the task of adapting to train or retrain people for the skills that will be most prized in the future.
  5. Technological forces will fundamentally change work and the economic landscape, with millions more people and millions fewer jobs in the future, raising questions about the future of capitalism.

“The vast majority of these experts wrestled with a foundational question: What is special about human beings that cannot be overtaken by robots and artificial intelligence?” said Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center and co-author of the report. “They were focused on things like creativity, social and emotional intelligence, critical thinking, teamwork and the special attributes tied to leadership. Many made the case that the best educational programmes of the future will teach people how to be lifelong learners, on the assumption that no job requirements today are fixed and stable.”

Among the skills, capabilities and attributes the experts predicted will be of most future value were: adaptability, resilience, empathy, compassion, judgement and discernment, deliberation, conflict resolution, and the capacity to motivate, mobilise and innovate.

Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, highlighted the need for schools to take a new approach to educate the workforce of the future: “Schools today turn out widget makers who can make widgets all the same. They are built on producing single right answers rather than creative solutions. They are built on an outmoded attention economy: Pay us for 45 hours of your attention and we will certify your knowledge. I believe that many — not all — areas of instruction should shift to competency-based education in which the outcomes needed are made clear and students are given multiple paths to achieve those outcomes, and they are certified not based on tests and grades but instead on portfolios of their work demonstrating their knowledge.”

Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards, added: “The skills needed to succeed in today’s world and the future are curiosity, creativity, taking initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking and empathy. These skills, interestingly, are the skills specific to human beings that machines and robots cannot do, and you can be taught to strengthen these skills through education.”

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