PREPARING FOR FUTURE EMPLOYMENT IN THE AGE OF AI

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Does life imitate art? There are several movies that have possibly provided a glimpse of what might end up happening in the future world. They all deal with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and/or Robotics. The movies are categorized as science fiction, but as we watch what’s happening around the world, they could conceivably be called “science faction.”

The Matrix franchise posits that we live in a simulated universe wherein machines in the future have taken over the world. The “chosen one,” played by Keanu Reeves, fights against this future. There are at least three Matrix movies with a fourth one in the works. Another movie franchise with at least three offerings is Terminator. In these films the future, once again, is owned by the machines that have waged all-out war against humanity with the goal of eradicating people. In I Robot, starring Will Smith, robots in the future are manufactured to serve as slaves. At one point, one of the most advanced robotic models is accused of murder, which was an anomaly since the robots were equipped with a clause that prohibited them from harming people. Of course, the accused robot was not guilty, and in the end he serves as a robot liberator.

These films with AI themes are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more, which usually involve some type of struggle with humanity. Today, fantasy is becoming reality. The cell phones that many of us use on a daily basis are more powerful than the computers that were used for the moon launch. Walmart has announced the use of robotic janitors for maintenance “staff” at some of its stores. A fast food franchise has started using automated servers. Robots are now building cars, and stores are using self-checkout lanes. There are even self-driving cars, and robots are doing surgery. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many people are frustrated with the growing presence of computers/AI. There is no doubt that the advent of AI is having an adverse impact on human employment. As the saying goes, when white people get a cold, Black people get pneumonia. In other words, the Black community tends to be affected by shifts in the economy even more than other groups. The computer/AI movement promises to have an adverse impact on Black employment. These challenges will probably increase as time goes on, because each technological innovation has the potential of replacing flesh and blood people.

With the cost of college education and subsequent student loan debt spiraling out of control, people are turning their attention to vocational education. This new movement can possibly offset some of the challenges faced by encroaching automation on numerous levels, but it is not the final solution. A future world has been envisioned wherein human labor will be minimally needed. Vocational education, itself, is becoming more and more complex. There was a time when the average person inclined toward a career in auto mechanics could become employed with little trouble. Not so today. Automobiles are very much computerized, which means education and training will require increasingly stringent training. Regarding this, the new kid on the block are electrical cars that won’t need oil changes or other repairs traditionally accessed by normal automobiles.

The question is: What to do? It is probably true that things will get worse before they get better. Because of this, we should steer our non-college-bound youth in the direction of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) careers. We cannot look back with nostalgia wishing for a return to the good old days when a person could make a decent living with minimal education and training. The new vocational career path is going to require highly-skilled individuals. There’s no getting around this. There is major resistance to this trend, but we must get over it and prepare for the workplace of the future, which will include the acquisition of technical skills. Unless most of our youth are planning for careers as rappers, athletes, hospitality, health services and more, they’re going to have to prepare for inclusion. Even those areas are vulnerable to technological advances. The most vulnerable jobs that will face extinction are the ones that require minimal skills. There will probably be no fall back as janitors or cashiers at some point. Take heed. A Luta Continua.

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