STEAM NOT STEM! Training, jobs and education in the age of AI

November 22, 2019

Even though Artificial General Intelligence or superintelligence is some way off, AI even in its narrow form is still significant in what it can do and in its implications.  

It has opened up  great opportunities in a whole variety of sectors Healthcare, Education, Financial Services, Marketing, Retail, Agriculture, Energy Conservation, Smart or Connected Cities – and of course the Law and the Legal System, where the predictive, analytical and problem solving nature of AI can make a huge difference to our lives. 

I chaired a House of Lords Select Committee last year on AI which looked at the impact and whether we had the right ingredients in our UK Industrial Strategy to take advantage of strengths in the field and whether we were mitigating the risks in the right way. 

We concluded that if we are going to retain public trust we need an overarching ethics framework which ensures certain principles are followed. We must seek to actively shape AI’s development and utilisation, or risk passively acquiescing in its many likely consequences.

The cardinal principle is that AI must be used for the benefit of society. It may well lead to greater productivity and more efficient use of resources generally but new technology should have a purpose. For example. many policy makers are linking the purpose of AI to the UN sustainable development goals which gives a useful context for AI adoption. 

There are also likely to be winners and losers with a concentration of wealth as a result of the widespread adoption of AI. These are major societal issues that need to be considered: who will reap the benefit?

One of the key areas we looked at in this context was the whole question of the future of jobs, education, skills and reskilling to ensure we are prepared for future automation of many jobs.

AI will have significant implications for the ways in which society lives and works and will accelerate the disruption in the jobs market. Many jobs or tasks will be enhanced by AI, many will disappear and many new, as yet unknown jobs, will be created. 

Public trust will hinge to some extent on job losses.

In 2013, Frey and Osborne of Oxford Martin School, published a paper The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, estimating that 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation. A report by IPPR in 2017 was equally pessimistic: it predicted that one third of jobs would go.  

More recently, a study by the OECD suggests that it is actually 14%, while a further “32% of jobs have a risk of between 50 and 70% pointing to the possibility of significant change in the way these jobs are carried out as a result of automation”.

It is interesting that the Chief Economist of the Bank England, Andrew Haldane, has joined in with some pessimistic forecasts suggesting up to 15 million jobs in the UK could be at risk of automation

It is also already clear that it is not just blue collar jobs which will be affected but the professions and white collar jobs too.

There is for example widespread adoption of AI in the legal profession. As Professor Richard Susskind says in his book, The Future of the Professions, the professions risk becoming as outdated as the old liveries and crafts. Fletchers, (Arrow makers) or Coopers (Barrel Makers) for instance.

This, of course, raises its own issues in terms of training where on the job training by doing mundane jobs no longer exists. We need to devise training programmes using VR where low level and intermediate work is carried out by AI and young people can’t learn on the job.And the fact is whatever the forecast we should be preparing for change and putting in place a National Reskilling Operation.

Retraining will become a lifelong necessity. We will need to be agile in the workplace reinventing ourselves on a regular basis but we are underprepared:

  • Government National Retraining Scheme is still only at pilot stage.
  • The number of people studying computer science and technology studies in secondary school has fallen by 35% since 2012. 
  • Educational pursuits are trending in the wrong direction. We need to support organizations that encourage youth participation in computer science.
  • There is a major retention problem between competitive tech companies poaching each other’s workers, which is dangerous because the number of workers is limited.
  • Only 11% of employees have completed training to help them understand how AI will be incorporated into the workforce. Many employees fear how the implementation of AI will impact their future employment.

Some of the recommendations to improve the supply of skills set out in the Growing the AI Industry in the UK Report 2017 have been set in train :

  • Conversion courses in AI in order to encourage academic diversity as well as ethnic/gender diversity. In October £13 million was announced for new AI conversion courses over the next three years to help encourage a more diverse workforce The Office for Students (OfS) launched a competition which invited universities and other higher education institutions to develop and implement MSc conversion courses for over 2,500 graduates in subjects other than computer and data science by 2023.These courses are part of the £1 billion AI Sector Deal. The aim for these conversion courses is to upskill or retrain students, including those from a non-STEM background, in artificial intelligence and data science, to encourage a more diverse workforce.
  • £10 million has been allocated for scholarships for students from backgrounds unrepresented in these industries, particularly female, disabled and black students. 
  • Industrially funded scholarships or MSc’s in AI/ML with an initial cohort of 300 students
  • 1,000 new PhD scholarships in AI have been created
  • Development of credit-bearing MOOCs and the online CPD courses in AI
  • The Turing AI Fellowship Programme

All these are a valuable contribution but In terms of the skills we should be nurturing it is very clear that this is not just tech skills such as maths and coding. Tech developers themselves agree that social and creative skills and critical thinking will be needed as well-(human skills)- so the humanities will be as important as the sciences.

This was clear from Tech UK’s report Preparing for change: how tech parents view education and the future of work. Parents in tech roles see first-hand how digital companies are changing the future – and with that comes insights. The report explores how they try to help them prepare for a future where work is likely to be very different to what it is now.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the impact of new technologies and the pace and scale of change that is coming, parents in tech companies don’t hold definitive answers. But their jobs do mean they have an understanding of how the world might change and what that could mean for their own

The report shows that tech parents are optimistic about the future world of work and the opportunities that will be available to their children. However, they also believe that the education system needs to adapt in order to better prepare all children for the future.

What the report found out:

  • 64% of parents said they felt optimistic or very optimistic about the future job opportunities that their children will have. Only 16% reported feeling pessimistic.
  • 67% of parents told us that they were making decisions about their children’s education based on the expectation that the world of work will change significantly in coming decades.
  • only 22% thought their child’s school was giving pupils good careers advice.
  • 65% of parents with surveyed with children between the ages of 5-17 felt that a stronger focus on soft-skills was needed both at primary and secondary school than that which currently exists.

The report also identified some directions of travel for policymakers and industry. 

For policymakers, what are the skills necessary to thrive in the future and how can we ensure that every child is equipped with them?

  • “Learning to learn: Just as jobs will change the nature of the job market is likely to change. The ability to adapt and pivot in the future world of work was a trait parents felt will be absolutely critical. Yet, the vast majority of parents who completed the survey expressed concern that learning in schools today was instead focused on passing exams
  • Retraining: Over 90% of those surveyed thought their children would need to retrain throughout their lives. Policymakers must be radical in their approach to adult education and work with industry to ensure that future workforces are encouraged and supported to retrain and upskill as and when necessary.
  • Soft skills: The survey overwhelmingly makes the case to rebalance the curriculum to ensure young people today are equipped for the jobs of tomorrow. Specifically, we should move away from solely knowledge based learning and continuous examination to a curriculum that nurtures soft skills, such as leadership and critical-thinking.
  • Creativity: Tech parents feel creativity will be key and we would encourage the reversal of the squeeze on creative subjects in the curriculum to restore art, design and music as core elements rather than ‘nice-to-haves’.”
  • To that I would add a basic ethics course for science subjects

And for industry:

  • “Careers advice: Industry should play a more prominent role in engaging with schools to offer careers advice. Given the pace and scale of technological change, it is unrealistic to expect teachers or even careers advisers to keep up with the most up-to-date roles etc. Companies and individuals within the tech sector must do more to directly engage with students, and where possible their parents, to offer them advice and information.
  • Apprenticeships: Industry must play a more active role in promoting apprenticeships to GCSE and A-level students. Companies should also do more to encourage their own staff to understand the value of apprenticeships.”

In 2016, the World Economic Forum published a list of the ten skills they felt were vital to enable individuals to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. On that list were skills such as: complex problem solving, creativity and cognitive flexibility. 

So all this needs a significant shift in thinking not only from those creating the curriculum but also from parents who need to sign up to a curriculum that would be vastly different from the one they would have experienced – and this is not easy.

The top ten skills in my book for the future are:

  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Fluency of Ideas
  • Active Learning
  • Learning Strategies
  • Originality
  • Systems Evaluation
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Systems Analysis
  • Monitoring

In other words STEAM not just STEM in our education system [the A stands for arts]. 

It is also really important that we have the necessary diversity/inclusion in the AI workforce  to spot problems of bias in training data and decision making. The irony in terms of gender balance is that we have been going backwards since the Second War and have only recently started to address the issue. 

A further aspect, as Doteveryone stress, if AI is to be assistive rather than purely substitutional, we all need to be better prepared for working with and using AI in terms of general digital understanding. The basic knowledge and understanding necessary to navigate an AI-driven world will be essential. In particular the ethical design and use of technology needs to become an integral part of the curriculum.

There are choices to be made in all this. Brynjolfson and McAfee in their book the “Second Machine Age” develop the skills discussion further but crucially add that end of the day we have to decide which values to adopt in the face of technological change. There are choices to be made about the uses to which AI is put, particularly in the workplace. Professor Margaret Boden expresses it very simply “even if AI can do something, should it?” Does it better connect and  empower our citizens, improve working life? Create a more sustainable society?

As regards AI in Education itself there is good reason to be optimistic about its introduction. It promises to play a key role in addressing a number of entrenched challenges. 

  • reducing the burdens placed on overworked teachers, AI could help to solve the crises in teacher wellbeing, recruitment and retention
  • enabling a ‘renaissance in assessment’, AI could allow education systems to move beyond focussing on a narrow range of skills that are easily measured, and hence truly equip learners with the skills needed for the 21st Century
  • facilitating high-quality provision at scale, AI could help ensure learners in developing countries have access to a high standard of education, and AI could be central to the design of high-calibre lifelong education systems

AI has already begun to have an impact on learning. AI tools are currently being used to detect dyslexia – which is done by tracking eye movements of learners whilst reading – and to support the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Artificial intelligence is not yet taking education by storm but this technology is affecting  students right now. It is therefore really important to understand as much as possible about the impacts AI is currently having.

That’s why I agreed to chair the Advisory Council of the Institute for Ethical AI in Education (IEAIED) founded by Sir Anthony Sheldon, the vice chancellor of Buckingham University. We are publishing an interim report in January. Watch this space!

Lord Tim Clement-Jones is a Partner and Head of UK Government Affairs. He was made a life peer in 1998. He is the Liberal Democrat spokesman for the Digital Economy and a former spokesman on the Creative Industries and is Chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (2017-). He is Co-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence.