Staunch STEM champions often highlight technical skills as the surefire path to professional success—especially with the looming rise of automation. But panelists at a recent Qatar Foundation conference argued that the skills students will need most to be successful in the workplace aren’t coding or programming, but rather philosophy, ethics, and morality education.
That’s because the people who will revolutionize society through technological advancements need to have a strong moral foundation, according to Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “Moral judgment and ethics could be as revolutionary as artificial intelligence in this next revolution, just as the internet was in the last revolution,” he said.
To illustrate Goodman’s point, Keren Wong, director of development at RoboTerra, brought up one of the moral dilemmas surrounding self-driving cars: What would happen if an autonomous vehicle had to choose between killing its two passengers and killing five pedestrians? Wong suggests that technologists will need experience working through these kinds of problems if they’re going to program machines to do the same.
“If we are leaving these choices in the hands of machine intelligence, then who are the people who will be programming these decisions?” asked Wong. “Who are the ones that are going to be setting up the frameworks for these machines?”
Another concern brought up by the panelists was the impact of technology on jobs and employment: Should all tasks that can be automated be automated for the sake of efficiency? Should technologists design machines primarily to replace human work or to aid human work?
“Humanity has always worked, and employment is not only about earning a living. It is also a sort of social enterprise where we engage with other people,” argues Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ashesi University College in Ghana. “If humans are designing machines to replace humans, versus helping them get work done, then that will change the structure of humanity to something that we have never seen,” he added. “This is why it’s so important to have history and philosophy as part of the curriculum for somebody who’s being educated as an engineer.”
But the number of college degrees awarded in the humanities is on the decline, and the decreased enrollment in humanities programs puts them at risk of being cut amidst budget constraints. “We need to be educating people so they are productive and employable,” said Awuah. “But we also need to be educating people so that they’re creating a society that is livable and social, where human interaction is important.”