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Trouble in Paradise?

Trouble in Paradise?

Gabriele Zedlmayer, March 2019

So there seems to be trouble in Paradise. The globe is facing massive challenges like climate change, cyber-crime, shortage of available resources, political instability and the potential of massive job loss because everything that can be automated will be. At the same time, we are seeing unprecedented opportunities like we have never before. Algorithms help us to better diagnose, predict and prevent diseases, they revolutionize the education sector by treating each student as an individual, and they free us from many repetitive and often cumbersome tasks.

These new AI technologies disrupt our personal and our professional lives. Platform based services address more and more of our needs as they deliver tailor made personalized experiences to us like shopping recommendations, driving assistance, even recognizing our mood just to provide us with music that matches our state of mind. Simply amazing. It is happening all around us and yet it seems that many of us do not understand that we are transforming from an old world with established rules to a new world that lacks definitions and witnesses constantly evolving business models. This new world is changing at exponential speed and no stone remains unturned.

Industry experts argue that we are currently in a two-horse race between China and the US when it comes to AI and how it is changing the world. Europe is a distant third and yet so far behind that it does not even matter who is actually in third or fourth place. This begs the question how we can better prepare the people in Europe and anywhere else in the world to successfully compete in a space that requires new skills and competencies, new forms of collaborations and most importantly new mindsets?

Education would seem a natural answer. But not in the traditional sense. When we hear the word education we tend to think about primary, secondary and tertiary learning institutions like elementary school, high school, college or university. We have to rethink the concept however. Education in the future will be all about lifelong learning – about constantly assessing what skills we need for future jobs and identifying the best learning platforms to get them. So what are these skills and how can we get trained? In their report Skill Shift Automation and the Future of the Workforce consultancy company McKinsey reports that the biggest change will take place in technological skills, both in advanced skills such as programming and advanced data analysis, and also in more basic digital skills relating to the increasing presence of digital technologies in all workplaces.

While not everybody is capable of programming algorithms or advanced data analytics, the broader population should be exposed to the basics of Artificial Intelligence and its impact on our daily lives as well as the Future of Work. The Finish government has recognized this need and set itself an ambitious goal. In collaboration with the University of Helsinki it designed a course to introduce 1% of its population to the basics of Artificial Intelligence. Citizens and interested individuals anywhere can go online and take the course which offers in total six modules; (1) what is AI, (2) solving problems with AI, (3) real world AI, (4) machine learning, (5) neural networks, and (6) implications. The course provides an introductory level overview of the technology and enables the students to engage in the discussion about a future shaped by Artificial Intelligence. Also, it encourages them to get deeper into the subject matter if they are interested in more technical careers.

Interested stakeholders can also turn to the more established Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like edX, Udacity, Coursera, or Udemy to gain a more in-depth understanding of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Access to Education has been democratized and the opportunities to learn are endless. It takes however great willpower and motivation for people to sign up and more importantly finish these courses on their own. A good way to improve the odds of completing a course is by creating a study group with like minded friends or colleagues. Setting a common goal and helping each other to achieve the mutual objective is a recipe for success. To get started I recommend the following website: DIYGENIUS. Here you will find plenty of relevant information about the future of work and how to best prepare for it.

The future is not what it used to be. Let´s make the most of it and help shape this exciting era that is ahead of us. We need to engage in the discussion about Man versus Machine now and raise our voice to help actively shape the ethical principles that will guide the future development of this technology. To get this right we need to involve the broad population, get them trained and agree on a set of values and principles that will be the foundation on which future developments in AI will be built.