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Towards An "AI-Enabled" Society

Written by: Salim Sheikh, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

These days the term Artificial Intelligence (AI) appears to exist almost everywhere. However, at the same time, it is mixed up with marketing hype, fears of a dystopian future where society is controlled by fear and oppression (think George Orwell, 1984) and mis ‒ and disinformation (aka fake news)aptly summed up the infographic below courtesy of Claire Wardle.


Road intersection and a purple and white graffiti on wall.

In short, everyone has an opinion about AI. But, less thought is given to the type of infrastructure, fabric or foundation our children and future generations will require to truly benefit from the potential that AI and emerging technologies promise.



Impact of AI on...


Building on the previous section, every day, there are countless re-shares of posts, tweets, blogs, opinions and commentary on the "impact of AI on" an array of topics, such as...

  • jobs (incl. career development, HR practices, leaders vs. managers vs. workers, UBI, etc.)

  • industry(incl. manufacturing & supply chains, finance, healthcare, insurance, etc.)

  • business (incl. B2B, B2C, ROI & profitability, data analytics, automation, etc.)

  • sales & marketing (consumer behaviour, chatbots, conversational AI systems, etc.)

  • innovation & creativity (incl. art, music, culture, inventions, etc.)

  • global pandemics (incl. COVID-19 vaccines, drug discovery, diagnostics, etc.)

  • the environment (incl. climate change, sustainable living, emissions, etc.)

  • military (incl. use of robots, autonomous systems, etc., for warfare and defence)

  • humanity & society (incl. civil liberties, trust, equality, privacy, mental health, etc.)


Many of the above topics are explored further in my book "Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact"; available to order on Amazon. If you're interested, get in touch and I will gladly offer you a discount. Given we are in the throes of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" (or 4IR), we are literally on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. 4IR is typically characterized by the fusion of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, as well as the growing utilisation of new technologies such as AI, machine learning (ML), cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality(AR), Virtual Reality(VR) and advanced wireless technologies, among other emerging technologies.



In its scale, scope, and complexity, 4IR will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. Hence, a different approach is required – perhaps from the ground up – that mirrors the post-COVID-19recovery plan across many countries: Restart, Reset, Reinvent.


Education, Education, Education

So, where do we start? Right at the beginning... Education... the bedrock of sustainability and future societies. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” And this is what we mean when we speak about the transformative power of education. After all, our current education system was built for the industrial era and based on a “factory model,” which is not appropriate for the 21st century; schools are no longer equipped to address the needs of a post-industrial 4IR world.



The whole idea of assembling masses of students(raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius. The whole administrative hierarchy of education, as it grew up, followed the model of industrial bureaucracy. The very organisation of knowledge into permanent disciplines was grounded on industrial assumptions. Children marched from place to place and sat in assigned stations. Bells rang to announce changes of time. Does this sound familiar? Sadly, many schools still use these outdated practices. In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson (who sadly passed away on 21 Aug 2020, may God rest his soul) posed the question"Do schools kill creativity?" to a TED audience; it was one of the first six TED Talks released with viewing figures of circa 50 million. The question was asked again ten years later, and regrettably whilst significant investment has been poured into schools and the education sector across the UK, there is still a fair way to go. If we don't change our schooling system and, by extension, how we educate and nurture our children's minds and innate gifts, we are in danger of establishing a future society in which children are endlessly absorbed (or lost?) in virtual and augmented reality video games, dependent on "pay-per-view," "pay-per-use", and other self-service apps never really needing to go anywhere – infatuated by a digital world which is seemingly more pleasurable, self-serving, and automatic as compared to anything in the "real world" which requires effort, sacrifice and (in-person) human contact.


AI and Future of Work


A-level aged students who are confident in maths and physics want to get into AI and robotics and are doing computer sciences. The younger ones, 15-year-olds, tend to say they want to do it because their mums and dads have told them it’s a good thing to get into. Schools need to provide better career advice and guidance to help students of all ages make the right choices about what they will do beyond school. This is particularly important as the future of work will likely focus on automation including robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning which are a subset of AI.



Some predict jobs will multiply following a disruptive transition period. Others foresee a net loss of jobs to the economy and warn of the need to explore policy solutions such as a universal basic income or a reduced working week. AI technologies will have a seismic impact on young people especially in entry-level jobs. Rather than creating fewer graduate or starter roles, it’s likely that instead, AI will simply change the type of jobs that exist. Ultimately, AI will be used to replace mundane activities and repetitive tasks to introduce efficiencies and streamlined business processes, eventually affecting greater numbers of blue – and white –collar jobs. That said, young people are in a powerful position to enter the workforce with new skills, having trained in AI and subjects such as data science. However, there is a concern that automation will lead to an ever-faster expansion of the gig economy. As job boundaries and functions blur, and "job atomisation" takes effect, people of all ages will find themselves working in increasingly different contexts – not quite the "pigeon-holed" jobs of today (recall, the "factory model" of education and work in the industrial era). The phrase “job atomisation” is used to describe the breaking up of jobs into smaller component responsibilities. This makes it possible for organisations to radically transform job functions and processes. AI and automation optimists argue that tasks will disappear from job descriptions allowing more time for research and creative, customer-focused work. More AI-centric graduate schemes will need to be established in order to excite and entice the younger, tech-literate generation into the future workforce. Often executives, HR leaders, and managers, posit that AI and automation will “free-up staff time”. However, are we ready and do we want to be freed up? Guess it depends on whose job or role is at stake.


Additionally, until you are directly affected, most people will remain ignorant of the negative effects (unintended consequences?) of AI and automation. According to KPMG, 60% of HR leaders believe AI will lead to fewer jobs, whereas 62% of chief executives say it creates more jobs than it eliminates. According to Robert Bolton, who heads KPMG’s Global People and Change Centre of Excellence, the changes that will be wrought by AI will have “more impact than Brexit”. In my opinion, we should never lose sight of the fact that – regardless of what our leaders and executives might say – the key goal of automation(particularly in business) is to replace people. That said, schools and our education system urgently need to be transformed in order to meet the challenges (and opportunities) afforded by AI and emerging technologies.


Concluding Thoughts

"Education, education, education" was at the core of Tony Blair's priorities to put classrooms at the top of the political agenda in a speech at the Labour Party Conference (1 Oct 1996). Amazingly, that was 24 years ago! The challenges we face today are unlike any we may have witnessed in the past. We're trying to solve them through an education system that was designed in the 19th century to do something else. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, There was a wonderful quote from HG Wells in the early 20th century, and I believe it to be true. He said, "Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe." I think it's exactly right. Our only hope here is how well and how thoroughly and in what way we educate our own children and future generations and the skills and competencies that we cultivate within them. And the current system is inadequately designed to cope with any of that. That's why it has to be revolutionised." To build green economies, we need green societies. Likewise, we need "rebuild" and "reinvent" our schools and education system for the 4IR era, and we need to change our mindset and establish a community of reformers (e.g., education ministers and policymakers, teachers, parents and researchers).


Our mission should include overhauling the age-graded ("factory model") school system and its standardisation of curriculum, instruction, and student behavior to prepare our young for a demanding and ever-changing workplace whilst also reaping the rewards of a future world of AI and emerging technologies. The society of the future should include schools and "learning environments" in which children of all ages work together on projects that draw from many subject areas whilst remaining relevant and connected to the world outside of the school. In these schools, teachers will work in teams (with others teachers and schools) via an blockchain-based peer-to-peer ecosystem of educators (taking inspiration from BEN), leveraging technology that focus on content and skills that can be master ed by individual students working at different paces. Schools where creativity and problem-solving are central to a curriculum designed by teachers and students rather than the government or state.



Schools will need to offer an environment that understands how to make the AI technology work for them and how to ensure it’s fair, responsible and ethical applied across all children. Beyond school and in the workplace, employers should introduce ways to cultivate and sustain a culture of lifelong learning and upskilling. Sustainability requires new ways of seeing the world, new ways of thinking about our responsibilities to each other and our world, new ways of acting and behaving as global citizens. Hence why education is the bedrock of sustainability; it can shape the new values, skills, and knowledge we need for future generations. I'd like to close with a quote from John Taylor Gattoo, Dumbing us Down: The HiddenCurriculum of Compulsory Schooling “Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your roadmap through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”



Let's join forces to enable an "AI future" that benefits us all – starting with our children, the bedrock of our society no matter what your culture, ethnicity, country, etc.


After all, isn't life about creating a safe haven and brighter future for our children? If we need a reason to come together, surely that's a good place to start? Are you with me?


Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website for more info!


 

Salim Sheikh, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Over the past 25 years, Salim has built a career in consulting, working both client ‒ and supplier-side as an interim CIO/CTO and a Business Change / Transformation Consultant. facilitating digital and technology transformations programmes that have included rescue & recovery ("turnaround"), process optimisation & improvement and organisational change – across diverse industries in the UK, Europe, Nordics, Turkey, UAE, US, and Australia.


Salim is an Oxford University alumni who also has strong academic roots in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is a mentor in the “Responsible Tech Program” managed by “All Tech Is Human” where he advocates “AI for Social Good” and “AI for All”.


He authored "Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact" which is available via IGI Global (https://bit.ly/34cfJVf) and Amazon (https://lnkd.in/gbk-zba).

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