We need to talk about robots
Ireland’s education system needs to adapt to the challenge arising from rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI), which could threaten tens of thousands of traditional jobs.
Recent and imminent advances in machine learning, which threaten to unleash change on the scale of the splitting of the atom, will shape the future of work – and the distribution of wealth in Ireland and across the globe.
This is not science fiction. Automation is already making its mark, including in proposals to phase in so-called staffless library services.
Speaking at IMPACT’s recent education division conference, deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan, said our education system must be ready to help workers recalibrate and adapt as demand for new and different skills grows.
“Major advances in artificial intelligence, many of which will be developed in our Institutes of technology, already point to a paradigm shift in the world of work,” he said.
But AI doesn’t yet have the human touch, which means visions of a work-free economy are wide of the mark. As Kevin said at the recent conference: “Basic human interaction will never be obsolete. You simply can’t code for the human situations that SNAs, counsellors, school completion staff and others encounter each day.
“There’s no algorithm for human empathy. Students don’t speak in ones and zeroes. No piece of software will nurture Ireland’s next generation.”
IMPACT has also identified the distribution of wealth created by new technologies as a basic challenge. The technology-driven decline of the American rustbelt played a major role in the election of Donald Trump, just as the slump in England’s industrial heartlands fueled support for Brexit.
Creative solutions are required to ensure that today’s technological advances don’t simply result in unemployment, poverty and social decay, which inevitably bolsters support for destructive populist politics.
There has been much discussion, for example, about the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The jury is still out on whether such a measure would be of benefit to workers or not.
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