Is Our AI Education Intelligent Enough?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the new black in Singapore forging ahead to seal its status as an AI hub in the region. Just last year, a national AI programme was unveiled by the National Research Foundation to “grow the knowledge, create the tools and develop the talent to power Singapore’s AI efforts”. In addition, they also announced plans to pump in US$107 million for the project over the next five years.

Recent research from Accenture found that AI could nearly double Singapore’s annual economic growth rates by 2035. The plans by the government are hence unsurprising as AI is deemed the next-generation technology that will power Singapore’s growth. It is not the only nation putting an emphasis on AI: many countries are similarly boosting their capabilities in the field. In 2017 China made up 50% of dollars going to AI start-ups globally, surpassing the US.

The spotlight on AI is now creating an intense competition for talent globally. The front page of China Daily on March 9 showed a robot with the heading “Battle for Talent” followed by “Demand in artificial intelligence sector outstrips the number of graduates with relevant skills”. In February, Bloomberg reported that there are only 22,000 PhD-educated researchers working on AI in the world.

As we face the looming talent gap for AI engineers, should we start questioning whether our current educational programmes will equip the workforce of the future with the skills they will need?

Singapore’s education system has been criticized for churning out students who are just exam-smart – having the ability to retain information but not doing anything innovative or creative with it. This is an issue, because creative thinking and problem solving are the traits that have led to the technological advancements we enjoy today and will want to solve tomorrow’s problems. Therefore, these skills must be valued and nurtured.

A step forward would be giving students more opportunities to try different things, learn from failures and drive more group-focus activities that encourage interactions, taking the emphasis off exam outcomes.

While we address how students are being taught, we also need to consider what is being taught. Imagine if 60 years ago we suggested that everyone should study computer science as a compulsory subject – it would probably have been met with laughter. Today we cannot imagine anything different, and the same thing needs to happen with AI as it is going to become ubiquitous and bring about radical changes, just as computers have done.

AI will shortly become indispensable and job opportunities now and in the future can be divided into four categories:

  • Tasks that human beings can perform, but robots can do even better, such as driving a truck.
  • Tasks that humans cannot perform but robots can, for example, fabricate a CPU.
  • Job features that humans did not realize they could perform, such as the development of game concepts.
  • Job functions that only human beings can perform (for now) such as expressing empathy for hospital patients.

While many mundane and repetitive roles will be replaced by robots as AI, deep learning and machine intelligence becomes more widely used, humans are not being taken over and replaced. On the contrary, these technologies free up time for humans to perform higher function tasks, such as planning, business improvement and auditing.

Therefore, we must demystify AI and develop tools that make it easier for all to understand and work with this newest of sciences, honing deep learning and new uses for analytics.

There are endless opportunities for AI, such as the way 14-year-old Tanmay Bakshi has used AI and deep learning to develop a tool which helps communicate with disabled people who cannot communicate normally through speech or gesticulation.

This perhaps gives us a small glimpse of the beneficial uses for AI in the future. As AI becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the education system needs to hatch many more people who are AI competent if we are to achieve the technology’s potential.

My strong call to educators:

Most of what we will think is cool and necessary by 2050 has not been invented yet.

By Benjamin Low, Vice President – Asia Pacific, Milestone Systems

This article ran in full on the Enterprise Innovation website: 

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