Image: Unsplash - Markus Spiske

AI have a dream: Are students prepared for the computer future?

Most of us are painfully aware of the struggles of teaching elderly relatives the wonders of technology. Even our parents, just one generation behind our own, generally have far less technological knowledge than us. My dad for one still texts using one finger, and I doubt he knows what a PDF is. It’s easy to see why – the majority of our parents grew up without easy access to tech, so their education and employment didn’t require that expertise. Nowadays, you’re unlikely to even be able to apply to for a graduate job without basic computer skills, and in a tech-literate society we need to have the necessary understanding of computing to stay ahead of the game.

However, soon being a wizard with Powerpoint might not be enough to prove you are tech competent. With the rise of artificial intelligence, people are becoming increasingly worried that there simply won’t be a place for new graduates in the job market, and that we, just like our parents and grandparents before us, could get left behind.

The appeal of artificial intelligence is understandable, not least because of the human drive to keep improving and developing, but there are of course risks to this. Looking past the extreme case of AI taking over the world, it’s not implausible that AI could provide better services than a human ever could. Many menial jobs are already being taken by machines that work more efficiently (and for less money).In a few years’ time people could be blaming unemployment on artificial intelligence rather than immigration, and it’s a growing concern for university graduates in particular; adulting in the real world is scary enough without the worry of a robot doing a better job than you!

The University of Warwick… prides itself on being modern and forward-thinking, but it may need to be doing more

The University of Warwick, along with many others, prides itself on being modern and forward-thinking, but it may need to be doing more to ensure its graduates are secure in the future job market. It’s heading in the right direction with coding modules, making sure we keep up with the generation after us – now children as young as five are being taught to code as part of the curriculum in schools. However, such modules are still only available on certain degree streams, and they often don’t deal with ‘real-world’ scenarios. I wonder whether introducing coding and AI to more degrees as optional modules would give undergraduates more opportunity to gain the skills to adapt to today’s job market. It may not be the most popular module if you came to came to Warwick to learn about Edgar Allan Poe rather than the work of Elon Musk, but in the future students might wish they took advantage of the chance to learn the skill before they encountered a job that required it.

So while the science students may be catered for, what about those over in humanities? It seems unlikely that an ‘introduction to coding’ will be offered in the History Department any time soon. Well, it could be that they actually have the upper hand over the science student. At the moment it looks like the main area in which AI will struggle to overtake humans is simply that, being human. By encouraging creative thought and original thinking, perhaps more necessary in arts-based degrees, graduates will (for now at least) be able to prove that they are invaluable to certain industries.

As much as it pains me to say, a literature analysis might be exactly what I need to be doing to ensure my grad job isn’t taken from me

This is where the notorious ‘Key Skills’ module might actually be doing us some good. While ‘transferable skills’ and similar modules may be the bane of a students’ life, they might be what sets us apart from the machines. Our ability to assess critically AND creatively is what (for the moment) makes us unique, and as much as it pains me to say, a presentation and a literature analysis might be exactly what I need to be doing to ensure my grad job isn’t taken from me.

While changes always need to be made, I do feel that for the most part Warwick is doing its bit to give students the necessary skills to succeed in today’s job market. However, we need to be careful to make sure neither the arts nor the sciences miss out on relevant lessons. Making sure that more creative degrees have at the very least basic knowledge of computing, and that the scientists know how to think creatively and originally is essential if any of us are going to succeed after graduation. Aside from that, the most we can really do is simply see what will happen, and cross our fingers that we won’t be obsolete.

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