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It has always been the fact that parents want their children to do better in life than they have. Every parent wants their child to be successful. Today that takes the form of telling children to study science, math, engineering and computer science, the so-called STEM subjects. However, in a world where artificial intelligence, encased in a robot, is predicted to take over a large number of jobs, is that really the best course of study we can recommend to them?
Robots and Jobs
Writer and futurist Tim Dunlop, in an article in the Guardian, says that the purpose of capitalism is not job creation but rather job destruction. Having to pay people to perform work is counterintuitive to the idea of making profit. Having an employee is a necessary evil of sorts to making money. If that work can be done instead by a robot the company has the potential to make more money, thus companies are, and will continue to be, moving to replacing as many employees as possible.
Up to the point of jobs being taken over by robots, more jobs were being created by new industries. Dunlop however says this pattern may be coming to an end. He gives two reasons:
- First, machines are getting smarter. Not only are blue collar positions being replaced, white collar jobs, such as lawyers and even writers are being supplanted by artificial intelligence.
- The second reason is the changing nature of work. He says “Wealth is being created – not by making and selling physical things – but in areas of knowledge, information and financialisation.” Those are the areas that AI works very well in thus reducing on a large scale the need for humans in those fields.
He gives the example of “Facebook itself is the sixth-largest company in the US, but it employs a mere 12,000 people full time. Compare that to, say, General Motors, which during the 1980s employed 349,000 workers in the US alone.” He quotes a report by the Oxford Martin School that concluded the number of workers “shifting into new industries is strikingly small: in 2010, only 0.5% of the US labour force is employed in industries that did not exist in 2000 [so] the companies leading the digital revolution have created few employment opportunities.” That certainly is not the robust creation of new jobs most of us would like to see.
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Dunlop says that “The good news is that humans, for a while yet, are going to have the edge over machines in areas where work is non-routinised; that demand creativity and empathy; and in areas of artistic expression and practice.” He does say that for a period of time the STEM areas will still create many jobs that cannot yet be replaced. Math Ph.D.’s are used by many companies such as Amazon to work out logistical problems. They have to be able to figure out how a drone is going to deliver your package.
But one area underplayed right now is the importance of creativity and artistic expression. Dunlop says this “means that higher education in arts-related subjects, including ethics, critical thinking and social relationships are also likely to be valued and in (relative) demand.”
What this means for future generations is that music, dance, writing, and critical thinking may be more valid and viable areas of studies than they have more recently been considered. Maybe that psychology degree may not be such a bad thing after all, or that fine arts degree. Of course Dunlop does point out that there have to be enough people making enough money off of other pursuits to be able to go an watch a performance and that is another issue.