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Artificial Intelligence Summit Attracts Country’s Top Minds

July 24, 2018
Teton Mountains near Jackson, Wyo.
A UW summit about artificial intelligence and the economy was hosted in the shadow of the Teton Range in Jackson, Wyo., in June 2018.

The landscape of employment could look very different in 20 years, and the University of Wyoming recently hosted a group of top academic minds to discuss ways colleges can adapt to help students thrive in the new disrupted economy.

A summit entitled, "The AI Disruption of Work—Educational Responses," took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson, Wyo., on June 15-16. UW College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Michael Pishko, Department of Computer Science Head and Professor James Caldwell (University of Wyoming), and Professor Moshe Vardi (Rice University) co-organized the event.

Caldwell says that the substantial progress in artificial intelligence (AI) in just the past five years has made it clear that the future of work is going to be dramatically different in the very near future. Manufacturing and other job sectors have traditionally been considered vulnerable to automation via efficient and cost-effective technology, but trends indicate it is likely there will be significant impacts on professionals working in fields previously thought to be immune. Radiologists, lawyers, accountants and financial professionals are all at risk in the near future.

“We brought together thought leaders in this area and we talked about what we’re going to do about the fact that AI has become so successful, it will displace about half the jobs in some industries in 20 years,” Caldwell says. “Other jobs will arrive, but we don’t know what they are.”

The summit was the first to address the topic of what universities could do to educate students to thrive in a dramatically changed economy. There have numerous meetings regarding AI and the future of work, but the Jackson summit was the first gathering to discuss how universities should respond.

“It’s a more narrow issue, but as an educator, I feel like it is a moral obligation to figure it out,” Caldwell adds. “Getting a job is not the only aspect of a university education, but one of the invited speakers, Michelle Weise from Strada Education Network, cited surveys that say the No. 1 reason students point to as their reason for attending college is the expectation that it will lead to a better job.”

Nearly 60 participants attended the summit, and it included notable speakers such as Joseph Aoun (president of Northeastern University and author); Farnam Jahanian (president of Carnegie Mellon University); Caroline Levander (vice president for global and digital strategy at Rice University); Jeffrey Selingo (Washington Post, New York Times bestselling author on higher education), John Mitchell (Stanford University) and UW Computer Science Associate Professor Jeff Clune. The event was a follow-on to the CRA Summit on Technology and Jobs hosted in 2017 in Washington D.C.

Advancements in AI have been so dramatic that even five years ago experts wouldn’t have dared to predict the dramatic advances in the technology, Caldwell says. A proposed solution to the core issue is to educate all university students to be literate in AI technologies, but also to train them in topics that computers can’t easily replicate: creativity, entrepreneurship, empathy and teamwork.

Caldwell says while there is no consensus on what the most successful approach will turn out to be, there is general agreement that lifelong learning will be key. One speaker noted that genetic experts on human longevity say that it is quite likely that the first person who will live to be 150 has been born. It doesn’t seem to make sense to continue to follow the current model where you spend 20 years going to school and live 130 more years without further education.

“Nationally, and UW is no exception, there is a sense of a division between the humanities and liberal arts disciplines and those in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields,” Caldwell says. “One of the answers that came out is that we need to train our students in those fields, and they would have a lot to offer for the future.”

He adds there are preliminary plans for a similar event next year, but a different topic will be addressed.

“I hope we can implement at UW some of the things we discussed,” Caldwell says. “To start, we might work toward eliminating an ‘us versus them’ mentality between humanities and STEM fields. To thrive in the new economy, students are going to need a broad education in both areas.”

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