‘Teach university students what robots cannot do’
MUSCAT: With all the talk about current and future applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), one cannot help but wonders what a university curriculum would look like in the future. More specifically, what is the skills that university graduates need in order not to worry about some smart robot taking over their jobs at some point in their career?
The science of AI was created a long time ago; the term itself was coined at a workshop in the USA in 1956. However, it is the field of machine learning and the advancement in computer hardware that have brought AI to the level we are witnessing today. To put this into perspective, the word machine in this context is equivalent to the notion of an algorithm or a computer program.So, when we talk about machine learning, we are referring to machines driven by computer programs capable of using knowledge accumulated from previous runs to handle new inputs, exactly the same way humans use previous experiences to handle new situations.
The famous AI project from IBM in the 1990s, named Deep Blue, was successful in beating a number of world-class masters of chess. This was possible because Deep Blue was taught how to make the (almost) optimal move for each possible scenario that may come up on a chessboard. Though very impressive, Deep Blue was not a learning algorithm because it was not capable of learning new moves on its own that were not part of its training repertoire.
An ANN is a computational model that tries to mimic the way the human brain works, and it is only recently that advancement in computer hardware has made it possible to implement such a model, where learning is done by forming associations, and not by performing computations, exactly the same way the human brain works.
It is easy to understand why technology companies like Google, Intel, Apple, Amazon, and Oracle may want to grab AI startups (in 2018, some of these acquisitions had a price tag of over $1 billion), but what is happening right now is that almost all big corporations across almost every traditional industry are also in a rush to integrate AI into their products. So, what does that mean for university students and professors? What are the skills that university graduates need in order to succeed in the future? The answer to this question may be found in the work of the American psychologist Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, intelligence is not bound to logical and mathematical intelligence, which is the type of intelligence that AI is very good at and will continue to get better each day. Jobs that require this type of intellectual intelligence are targets for AI applications and most likely will be taken over by machines in the future. The good news is that Gardner has also identified other types of intelligence that human beings can be very good at, while machines are still lagging behind seriously and may never get closer to the ability of a human being, at least not in the foreseen future.
One example is the verballinguistic intelligence, which brings some people the gift of becoming creative writers and very good at learning other languages. Although the AI area of Natural Language Processing has made significant progress in recent years, we think it will be a long way before machines can write novels and poems and learn languages on their own, the way we humans do. Another type of intelligence is the interpersonal intelligence, which gives some of us the ability to manage and lead other people effectively. On this front, the area of AI that attempts to recognise human emotions is still in its infancy. A third example is an intrapersonal intelligence, which makes some people more aware of their strengths and weaknesses than others.
We invite university professors to help students succeed in the future by designing lessons that draw on all kinds of intelligence. This way, each student will get the chance to discover his or her own set of intellectual abilities, which will differ from one student to another. Only then, we will be preparing our students for the future age of AI. We recall a 15th-century motto, which states that the virtue of a teacher is to help students uncover their different abilities.
Fouad Chedid, the writer, is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at A’Sharqiyah University in the Sultanate of Oman. He has taught at several universities in the USA, Japan, Lebanon, and Oman.