ALBANY -- The proliferation of artificial intelligence technology across nearly all industries will force major changes in an education system expected to prepare students for the workforce, according to panelists at a forum Wednesday at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
The panelists – from state government, academia and private businesses – agreed that educators will need to shift their approach to preparing students for an economy based on rapidly changing technologies, massive amounts of data and computers that can learn and act of their own accord.
The panelists also agreed students at all levels will need to embrace a passion for education and commit to a lifetime of learning new things.
But the transition toward an economy that is increasingly reliant on artificial intelligence won’t happen without fear and anxiety, as entire fields of work are rendered obsolete. Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the state Department of Labor, said artificial intelligence presents an array of potential benefits for the state, but also creates legitimate concerns.
“This is a topic that frightens workers and frightens parents and workers’ representatives, because the fear is that AI will replace people, and you hear that all the time,” Reardon said during the panel discussion. “It is a massive change, and this change will happen so much faster than change has ever happened before.”
In a report published earlier this month, Rockefeller Institute senior economist Laura Schultz concluded 53 percent of jobs in New York could be automated with technology already available or expected to to become available in the near future. And jobs across the entire economy are at risk: office and administrative support, sales, food preparation, technical health care practitioners and business and financial operations. The list touches nearly every industry.
Changes to education will include a greater emphasis on individualized learning, introduction to computer programming in the earliest grades and an approach that focuses on broad concepts over detailed methods, panelists said.
And students should go about their education with the assumption that it won’t end after high school or college -- or even graduate school, panelists said. Throughout their careers, people will need to learn new skills.
“The expectation of lifelong learning is crucial to this … no matter what you do, it’s going to change,” Reardon said. “We have to start with young people, telling them they will spend their lives learning.”
Panelist Steve Hoover, chief technology officer and a senior vice president at Xerox, said educators should focus on building students' knowledge of broad concepts about how computer systems work, how computer programming works, so that people learn a framework they can apply to a wide range of situations and problems – even as specific technologies evolve.
“It’s a different mindset and a different way of thinking about what is it we are teaching them,” Hoover said of the more conceptual approach.
Ajay Royyuru, a fellow at IBM who specializes in health care research, said researchers used to think about how best to measure things and collect data. Current students will need to focus more on how best to exploit large pools of data to find new solutions to old problems.
SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, also on hand for the forum, said the use of artificial intelligence and big data has the potential to remake the SUNY system. She emphasized the research potential of giving students and academics across the system access to shared data and data that grows over time.
“[In artificial intelligence], they who have the most data win,” Johnson said. “If we can figure out how to connect researchers, students and staff to the data ... that’s going to be a real win.”
Advances in artificial intelligence won’t just force change on educators, some panelists pointed out. It will also enable new and more effective ways of educating students.
Kevin Geiss, a director at the federal Air Force Research Laboratory, said artificial intelligence can be used to identify the ways students learn best. That information can then be used by educators and students to continue to improve their learning.
“How can we accelerate the learning of individuals, utilizing perhaps a [computerized] personal assistant throughout your career that understands how you learn best?”