Retraining as Retaining

Jeremy Auger, a Chief Strategy Officer at D2L, an educational technology company, has asserted in a post on that the way for humans to maintain their relevance in the labor force in the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation developments is through ongoing, career-long retraining. His voice is added to a choir of individuals who are preaching the same message.

Auger argues that AI represents an unprecedented challenge to the work force on account of its cerebral capabilities, which could see it replacing the human workforce "in the cognitive space as well as the physical one." He argues that

learning can’t end with graduation. To be competitive, companies will need to step up and provide education opportunities themselves, while encouraging self-directed learning so they can ensure that their workers are continually acquiring new skills

Firstly, he argues that we need to change what people learn. Rather than attempt to match AI in ability, we should instead aim to cultivate the skills that AI is unlikely to develop, such as "innovation and creativity: seeing connections in seemingly unrelated things." This is the impetus behind other related programs like IBM's P-Tech, which seeks to give children today a more tech-oriented education that befits tomorrow's automation-driven world.

He also argues that we should shift the onus of education away from parents and schools, and towards ourselves and the companies we are part of, who should "take responsibility for continually providing opportunities for their employees to develop." This is a view shared by David Kenny, IBM's senior Vice President for Watson, who wrote in an article for Wired that we should be

updating the Federal Work-Study program, something long overdue, [which] would give college students meaningful, career-focused internships at companies rather than jobs in the school cafeteria or library

Is there Another Answer?

However, retraining and re-educating is not the end-all-be-all answer to the ever-growing issue that is automation. There are rival choirs who are lauding different solutions to AI joining the workforce, which Stephen Hawking states will cause "job destruction deep into the middle classes," and Oxford University researchers claim that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk because of it.

Bill Gates has proposed taxing robots and corporations in order to provide for people whose jobs are being replaced: he has asserted that "Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

Others have proposed a system of universal basic income (UBI) — an income prescribed by the government to any citizen — to give individuals the money that they would have earned through a job replaced by automation. People would then be able to work to augment their pay, but would always be able to survive regardless of whether they are employed.

Mark Zuckerberg is an advocator of the UBI strategy, viewing it as a platform for innovation rather than the sad consequence of being exceeded by a robot. He told Harvard graduates that “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”

There are a spectrum of views concerning the best response to increasing automation of the working world — although none of them seem to guarantee the best situation for AI and humans. However, it is important that we continue to have these conversations now rather than face them after the problem has progressed much further.

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