The following is a guest blog by Vasant G Honavar, Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Member, Edward Frymoyer Endowed Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, Professor of Computer Science, and Director of the Center for Big Data Analytics and Discovery Informatics at the Pennsylvania State University.
It has long been recognized that many routine or manual blue collar work has been, and will continue to be, automated. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicts widespread disruption not only to business models as well as labor markets, due to the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” unleashed in part, by the advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, among other fields. The Economic Report of the President published earlier this year predicts that there is an 83% chance that workers who earn $20 an hour or less could have their jobs replaced by robots in the future. With recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, there is growing prospects of automation of tasks requiring significant levels of expertise and skills in fields like healthcare, law, journalism, banking, among others. What will happen to the workforce that was once occupying those jobs? Will the same technological advances that are making many of the jobs of today obsolete, help create entirely new types of jobs, and improve the quality of life for the general population as the industrial revolution (1760-1840) did, for the first time in history? How can individuals equip themselves with the knowledge and skills throughout their life that are critical for success in a world where the jobs available as well as the skills needed both change at a rapid pace? How can we develop systems that optimally leverage the unique and complementary strengths of artificial intelligence and robots on the one hand and humans on the other? How can societies anticipate and respond to the technology driven disruptive changes that are almost surely on the horizon, so as to maximize their benefits and minimize their harm to the society at large?
These challenges were discussed in one of the sessions of the recent CCC two-day Symposium on Computing Research: Addressing National Priorities and Societal Needs. This meeting brought together over 130 in-person participants, 1000 online viewers and 25 attendees from federal agencies to discuss the current and potential role of computing in addressing societal needs.
Moshe Vardi, Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering and Director of the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology at Rice University, and Editor-in-Chief of the Communications of the ACM, spoke about “The Moral Imperatives of Artificial Intelligence”. He used automation of driving, a capability that is expected to become a reality within the next few years, to illustrate the moral imperatives of artificial intelligence. On the one hand, the potential benefits of automated driving are extremely compelling: The number of deaths from car accidents worldwide every year is around 1.25 million. Given that over 90% of the accidents are caused by human error, we could save over a million lives and avoid countless injuries by automating driving. On the other hand, automation of driving would result in a significant job loss. In the U.S. alone, nearly 10% of all jobs involve operating a vehicle and the majority of these jobs would be lost as a result of automation of driving. Vardi Concluded: “In balance, life saving and injury prevention must take precedence, and we have a moral imperative to develop and deploy automated driving. As computing professionals, we also have a moral imperative to acknowledge the adverse societal consequences of the technology we develop and to engage with social scientists to find ways to address these consequences”.
Miguel Encarnação, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at ACT, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that provides a broad array of assessment, research, and program management solutions in education and workforce development, gave a presentation titled “From Summative Assessments to Quantified Self: The changing scope of learning analytics in the era of Big Data”. His talk focused on challenges of workforce development in a world where the major disruptions in business models and labor market that are predicted to occur due in part to advances in computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. He noted some dire statistics: In the US, in 2015, 7% students did not graduate from high school; 25% were not college ready; 42% did not graduate from 4-year schools within 6 years. In 2013, the unemployment rate for college grads under 25 was 36%. These statistics are especially worrisome light of the disruptive changes in the labor market that are being unleashed in part due to technological advances. He argued that the advances in learning analytics and personalized learning and teaching platforms offer tremendous potential for tailoring of the content as well as its delivery to optimize learning outcomes offers a way to empower individuals to rapidly acquire the fast changing knowledge and skills that enable them to succeed and thrive in such a world.
Zoran Popović, Professor of Computer Science and Director of Center for Game Science at University of Washington and founder of Enlearn, spoke about technology-enabled approaches to “Rapid Development of Human Expertise”, with obvious implications for preparing an agile 21st century workforce ready to take on and benefit from the rapid advances in computing, robotics, and artificial intelligence. He illustrated the potential of human-machine systems that rapidly develop expertise in arbitrary domains using two projects from his lab: (i) Foldit, a biochemistry game that engaged large groups of individuals with varying levels of skills and expertise to fold proteins (determine the 3-dimensional structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence, a problem that has resisted automation) leading to 3 Nature publications in just 2 years, and to design novel drugs; (ii) Math learning games that have shown promise in improving the mastery of algebra, basic numeracy, etc., in K-12 students among hundreds of thousands of students around the world.
These discussions and the workshops sponsored by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on closely related topics, including the CCC Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Social Good and the Workshop on The Social and Economic Implications of Artificial Intelligence Technologies in the Near-Term, remind our community that the fundamental advances in computing from artificial intelligence to robotics, machine learning, human-computer interaction, that are contributing to what some have called “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” can also play a significant role in maximizing its benefits to the society at large.