BE­ING HU­MAN

NEW SKILLS NEEDED IN THE AGE OF RO­BOTS

Southeast Asia Globe - - Education In Southeast Asia - BY EUAN BLACK

Ro­bots can do any­thing if they put their minds to it . Last year, Flow Ma­chines, a re­search project funded by the Euro­pean Re­search Coun­cil and co­or­di­nated by the Sony Com­puter Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory (Sony SCL), pro­duced the world's first pop song com­posed by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

The team at Sony SCL fed more than 13,000 sheets of pop­u­lar mu­sic into a com­puter, which an­a­lysed the rhythms, melodies and struc­ture of the mu­sic and then used ad­vanced ma­chine learn­ing to pro­duce its own orig­i­nal melody based on its anal­y­sis (the lyrics were later added by a hu­man). The re­sult was “Daddy's Car”, a song in­spired by the Bea­tles that sounds no more for­mu­laic than other hits top­ping to­day's mu­sic charts.

While it would be a stretch to de­scribe the song as ev­i­dence of a ma­chine's abil­ity to cre­ate orig­i­nal art, the project goes at least part of the way to­ward un­der­min­ing the sanc­tity of hu­man cre­ativ­ity, spoil­ing the long-held be­lief that only low-skilled labour is un­der threat from au­to­ma­tion. To­day, ac­quir­ing strong tech­no­log­i­cal skills may be enough to se­cure em­ploy­ment over a ma­chine, but ex­perts warn the same can­not be said for to­mor­row.

In the eyes of Marc Tucker, pres­i­dent of the US-based Na­tional Cen­tre on Ed­u­ca­tion and the Econ­omy and a re­searcher who has spent the past two decades analysing the world's best-per­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, the rapid rise of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence means that we must de­vote our de­vel­op­ment “to those things that are uniquely hu­man”.

“The peo­ple who will suc­ceed in the world ahead are the peo­ple who make use of their most hu­man, non-cog­ni­tive ca­pac­i­ties: their abil­ity to re­late to other peo­ple; their abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex mat­ters clearly; their abil­ity to work in teams ef­fec­tively [and] to lead oth­ers,” he told South­east Asia Globe dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view from Washington, DC.

Tucker is in good com­pany when he ex­pounds the in­creas­ing im­por­tance of what are of­ten re­ferred to as ‘soft skills'. In 2015, a re­port by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum claimed that in­creas­ing au­to­ma­tion meant that com­plex prob­lem solv­ing, crit­i­cal think­ing and cre­ativ­ity would be­come the three most sought af­ter work­place skills in 2020. Ear­lier this year, a sim­i­lar re­port by the

The peo­ple who will suc­ceed in the world ahead are the peo­ple who make use of their most hu­man, non-cog­ni­tive ca­pac­i­ties

pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm Deloitte ar­gued that a new wave of jobs brought about by au­to­ma­tion was creat­ing de­mand for “higher cog­ni­tive skills such as those that de­pend on man­age­ment or hu­man so­cial in­ter­ac­tion”. To en­sure stu­dents de­velop such skills, schools must teach stu­dents how to think, not what to think. But they must also un­der­stand that some of life's most valu­able lessons tran­scend the class­room set­ting and, thus, cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments that mimic real-life sit­u­a­tions and en­cour­age stu­dents to think on their feet, ac­cord­ing to Tucker.

“In the West, when peo­ple think about school­ing, they tend to think about what hap­pens in class­rooms, which is re­ally the cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment of young peo­ple. But they think much less of what hap­pens on the play­ing fields or what hap­pens in sports,” he said. “In the fu­ture, the role of the school [should be] seen more holis­ti­cally. Schools should de­velop a stu­dent's char­ac­ter and val­ues, as well as their think­ing abil­ity.”

Even tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced Sin­ga­pore, which was re­cently recog­nised as hav­ing the best ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the world by the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent Assess­ment, has been crit­i­cised for fail­ing to ad­e­quately equip stu­dents with the req­ui­site ‘soft skills' to ef­fec­tively con­trib­ute to the mod­ern work­force. A year-long survey con­ducted by the Sin­ga­pore Man­age­ment Univer­sity and JP Mor­gan and pub­lished in 2016 re­vealed that the city-state had for too long fo­cused on teach­ing hard skills at the ex­pense of nur­tur­ing the cre­ativ­ity of its stu­dents, un­der­min­ing its goal of creat­ing an in­no­va­tion­driven econ­omy.

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