The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) is promising big things. According to research by Accenture, AI could increase labor productivity by up to 40 percent and double the annual economic growth rates in 12 developed economies by 2035.
In doing so, AI is set to change the nature of work. We’ve already seen self-checkout technology decimate the retail workforce, and AI-powered customer assistants are expected to send the sales profession the way of the dinosaurs.
Self-driving vehicles may put couriers, long-haul truck drivers and transport and logistics workers of business, and automated phone and scheduling services may also spell the end of office administration staff.
And many other professions are not safe either. News-gathering algorithms may make human journalists redundant in coming years; a law algorithm recently achieved a 70 percent success rate in 8,000 test cases; hospitals and pharmaceutical chains are already replacing human pharmacists with automated machines; and even highly skilled surgeons are under threat from increasingly sophisticated surgical robots.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Experts believe it will be many years before AI is capable of completely replacing creatives like writers, designers and artists, and executive management positions are also likely to remain in human hands for the foreseeable future.
The AI revolution is also serving up a range of new work opportunities for the next generation. Computer support specialists, for example, are set to see 88,500 jobs added from 2016–26 (an 11 percent increase), while software developers will see 302,500 jobs added in the same timespan (a 24 percent increase).
But these jobs – and others like them – will require new skill sets that our kids should be learning today. Coding, systems infrastructure and quality assurance skills are winners in the industry, and data analytics should also take a primary place in school and university curriculums as we face the growing need for data analysts to make sense of the enormous amounts of data organizations are currently collecting.
The rise of ‘cobotics’
Perhaps the largest growth industry for our kids will be robotics engineering. Robots are already filling many manufacturing jobs, but increasingly sophisticated AI-powered cobots (collaborative robots) are set to transform many more industries.
Cobots are not limited to protected silos on factory floors. Rather, the light, mobile machines will work with and alongside people in shared environments, and will be teachable in order to complete or assist with a huge variety of tasks across a wide range of industries.
Federal funding is available for STEM education, with the Department of Education being directed to invest in “high-quality STEM education, including computer science in particular,” with the goal of providing $200 million in annual grand funding.
But we’ll need to continue to increase our commitment to this kind of high-tech education if we’re to equip our kids with the skills they’ll need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.