Surfing the 4th Industrial Revolution: AI and the liberal arts


Accelerating trends in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics point to significant economic disruption in the years ahead. Together, machine learning, natural-language recognition, biometrics, and decision management are converging toward what the World Economic Forum has described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To this point, technology has consistently generated more jobs than it destroys—but many now wonder if “this time is different.”

According to McKinsey & Company, half of all existing work activities could be automated by currently existing technologies, saving some $16 trillion in wages. Forecasts indicate that revenues from AI will expand from the current $8 billion to more than $47 billion by 2020. Industries attracting the most investment include automated customer service, quality management and recommendation, medical diagnosis and treatment, and fraud analysis and investigation.

For many policymakers, a natural response to this shift has been to focus on more and improved training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. What is often less appreciated, however, is the role liberal arts will play in this Fourth Industrial Revolution.


As many studies now demonstrate, creative problem-solving, people management, and social intelligence remain significant bottlenecks to machine learning. This suggests that these “soft” skills will increase in value as AI matures. Indeed, even as technology eliminates the need for routine labor, it will also open up whole new opportunities in industries that leverage creativity and innovation. Surfing this Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean marrying human intelligence to machine intelligence in new and creative ways.

In order to ensure the future prosperity of advanced economies, students will need skills that match with a wide range of disruptive technologies. In fact, new tools that build on speech recognition, digital assistance, augmented reality, and generative design are already amplifying human capabilities. Growing calls to bridge AI with human ingenuity suggest that our education systems will need to focus on teaching skills that will augment and complement AI to meet the impact of machine automation.

Read the source article at Brookings.