An Article by IEEE Spectrum captured a dialog that occurred at a recent MIT conference. The topic: AI and the Future of Work. The conference discussion underscores the struggles between Techno-Optimism and Techno-Pessimism. Pessimistic when AI and automation are viewed as an industry-destroying path that takes jobs via self-driving technology, smart law algorithms, and robots that continue to put factory and warehouse workers out of work. Optimistic when those same technologies are viewed as augmentation that improves the employee experience.
AI changes the nature of work and transforms the workforce. This progression has significant Implications for Education. Guillermo Miranda, IBM’s global head of corporate social responsibility, said IBM has increasingly been hiring based not on credentials but on skills. He said, as much as fifteen percent of the company’s new hires in some divisions do not have a traditional four-year college degree. In an interesting take on skilling for the future, Ardine Williams, Amazon’s VP of workforce development, said they have been experimenting with developing warehouse employee skills with an eye toward enabling higher-paying work with other companies. She described an agreement they made in their Dallas fulfillment center with aircraft maker Sikorsky. They had been experiencing a shortage of skilled workers at its nearby factory, so Amazon offered its employees free certification training to seek higher-paying work at Sikorsky.
This is a good example of a company focused on Purpose. Are businesses the mechanism for re-skilling society? Are degrees less valuable in the future? Education has been the bridge between eras. In the mid-1800s, operating steam driven machines required a skilled workforce – education helped the working class emerge from a period of stagnation. Later, high school helped ease the transition from the farm to the factory and the office. Does a hybrid model of business and traditional education represent the bridge to the new era? The article describes the tax credits that companies receive for R&D and asks whether tax credits should be provided to incentivize new investment programs in worker training.
Daron Acemoglu, MIT Institute Professor of Economics said it well:
“We need to build a consensus that, along the path we’re following at the moment, there are going to be increasing problems for labor,” Acemoglu said. “We need a mindset change. That it is not just about minimizing costs or maximizing tax benefits, but really worrying about what kind of society we’re creating and what kind of environment we’re creating if we keep on just automating and [eliminating] good jobs.”