Future proof your career with Professor Toby Walsh

Prepare for the jobs of the future with world renowned artificial intelligence expert Professor Toby Walsh at the first-ever Hills Shire Future State: Youth Symposium at the Pioneer Theatre on Wednesday, May 22.

Professor Walsh has extensive experience in the field of AI and is a strong advocate for ensuring AI is used to improve, not hurt, our lives.

Professor Walsh will be joined by urban designer Melissa Neighbour and political economist Dr Angus Harvey.

Plus, the FREE event will be hosted by renowned Australian comedian Susie Youssef.

Focus caught up with Professor Walsh ahead of the Youth Symposium to get a sneak peek into the mind of an AI genius.

Q: What do you hope attendees take home from your upcoming talk at The Hills Youth Symposium?

A: I hope they come away less worried about artificial intelligence and more focused on the realistic concerns people should be having about AI, issues about privacy and the changing nature of work and not that the robots are going to take over or steal all our jobs.

Q: What are your thoughts on the jobs of the future?

A: There’s been a huge amount of concern and some frightening numbers being thrown around like 50 per cent of jobs are at risk of being automated. The truth of the matter is no one has any idea. In the past, it’s always been that more jobs were created by new technology than destroyed. There’s no guarantee that that will always be the case moving forward. Previously it was just taking away the manual jobs, now it’s taking away some of the cognitive tasks so there are important questions to be asked about what are the jobs that are going to be left. There’s plenty of work. I don’t think there’ll ever be a shortage of work.

There’s much of what we do which isn’t well paid or not paid at all, often done by women – looking after the elderly, looking after children, looking after the handicapped, all the voluntary work in our communities, that if we wanted to we could support. I think the more important question is not whether there’s going to be a shortage of jobs but whether we’re going to share the wealth and prosperity around, and I think there are worrying signs that we’re not. The technology is concentrating wealth into the hands of a few and leaving many people behind.

The other important conversation is the changing nature of work. People will be doing different jobs in 20 years’ time just like they were doing different jobs 20 years ago. So what are the right skills that young people especially should be learning at school, at university and elsewhere to make them future proof?

Q: What courses should students be looking at studying to ensure they get the jobs of the future?

A: There’s not one answer, just like there isn’t just one job going to be available in the future. I think one of the most important things for young people to do is to follow their passion. You want to find something that you’re passionate about and life will be much more exciting. The work won’t be work; it will actually be pleasure as well as a way of earning an income. But in terms of what skills I think will be highly employable in the future, I’ve got a very useful personal aid memoir which is to think of a triangle, and you want to be in one of the corners of the triangle not in the middle where the jobs will be replaced.

So at the top of the triangle are things requiring technical skills – computer programming, STEM, people who are inventing the future. Obviously not everyone is technically minded, note everyone wants to be a geek like me, but there are two other corners of the triangle.

On the left hand corner, you have people with emotional and social intelligence. Computers don’t have emotional and social intelligence and it’s not clear if they will have in the future. Even if they do we will still prefer interacting with other people. So there are plenty of people facing jobs in the future where, even if we could get computers to do them, we’ll prefer to have humans do them – being a salesperson, being a psychologist, being a politician, and being a CEO. Apparently the most important skill for a CEO to have is their emotional intelligence. So there are plenty of jobs for people who have those emotional smarts.

The third and final corner of the triangle is the artists and the artisans. Computers aren’t creative today. Maybe we will be able to make computers a little more creative. There are definitely things that you can teach yourself to make yourself more creative so maybe we could teach those to machines. Even if we could I don’t think we’re going to care too much about the things that the machines create because they won’t speak to those human values. They won’t speak about love and loss and all those sorts of things that are human. Already you see this in hipster culture. There’s an increasing focus on homemade bread, artisan cheese and things that are touched by the human hand because they’ll be rarer. The things that computers and robots will make will be mass produced and cheap which will make the cost of living come down which will be good for all of us. But the things that are unique, one off and made by humans will have increasing value. There’ll be plenty of jobs for people working in those sorts of spaces.

Q: How is AI taking on the world?

A: It’s hard to think of an aspect of our lives which it won’t touch. It’s going to touch almost every aspect of work. You can’t think of a business which won’t be using AI to improve its operations and how it serves customers.

Equally it’s hard to think of an aspect of the rest of our lives – how we play, how we eat, how we sleep, that won’t be touched. One of the things that people don’t realise is that Ai is already a somewhat invisible part of our lives. Every time you pick up your smartphone and ask Siri a question, that’s artificial intelligence that’s understanding your speech, turning that into text, looking up the question and reading you back an answer. Every time that you get Google Translate to translate between two languages, that’s an AI that’s doing the translation. Every time that Amazon gives you a book recommendation, that’s AI that knows something about people’s preferences and what books you might like given the books that you’ve bought and read in the past. If you get in your car and turn on the lane following, that’s AI. So it’s already starting to invade our lives, perhaps without us realising. It will eventually be everywhere. Every time you go in a room, speak to the room and say turn the lights on, you’ll expect an AI to be listening and it will do your bidding

Q: You’ve spoken out on autonomous weapons. Why?

A: This is something that does concern me. Many of the fears that Hollywood would have you believe are misguided – robots aren’t going to decide to rise up and take over the world. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about some misuses of this technology just like we’ve been concerned about misuses of other technologies in the past.

One that really does concern me and many of my colleagues is the way it is going to be increasingly used in warfare. This often gets called killer robots by the media. The problem with calling it killer robots is that it gives people the wrong picture. It gives people the picture of Terminator, a very sophisticated robot with a will of its own. It’s actually much simpler, more mundane uses of AI that we’re worried about that are much nearer in time that will be used in the near future. In fact, there are prototypes developed today that you can see YouTube videos of. If you take the drones that you see flying in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s still a human in the loop. There’s still a soldier in a container in Nevada who is actually flying the drone, who’s got his or her finger on the trigger, who’s making the final decision. But it’s a small step to remove that soldier and have an algorithm that will actually recognise the imagery on the ground and will make a decision as to who to kill and that would be crossing a moral red line. It would be taking warfare into a very dangerous place. It would industrialise warfare and it would be very destabilising.

So, like many of my colleagues, I’ve been sounding warnings about this and I’ve actually spoken several times now at the United Nations warning diplomats about this and I’m pleased to say slowly the diplomats are picking up this idea. 28 nations now have called for a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons. Most recently the European Union voted for this. Australia is sadly not amongst those nations and I would love to see us take a leadership role in these discussions to ensure we don’t have this evil in the world.

Q: Anything else that you would like to add?

A: We’ve discussed some of the concerns, but I always like to remind people of the benefits. With any technology there are many good things as well as many bad things that we should try and avoid. We talked about the impacts that it’s going to have on work but in fact we should be celebrating when machines take over jobs, because by the very nature of the fact that we got a machine to do the job, it meant that it was dull, repetitive and we probably shouldn’t have been getting humans to do it in the first place. So we should be rejoicing that we’re not getting humans to do robotic things anymore. We just have to make sure those people find useful purpose and find a way to be rewarded in life elsewhere. Equally, there’s going to be a great future for AI in things like healthcare. It’s going to help us live longer, healthier lives. Many of the diseases of today will actually be cured in part by using data and technologies to help us better understand how the human body works.

Catch Professor Toby Walsh at the Future State: Youth Symposium on May 22 along with urban designer Melissa Neighbour and political economist Dr Angus Harvey.

Book your tickets now at www.pioneertheatre.com.au.

You can also find out more about the impact of AI on society in Professor Walsh’s new book, 2062: The World That AI Made, available now.

When: Wednesday, May 22

Where: The Pioneer Theatre, Cnr Pennant & Castle St, Castle Hill

Cost: FREE

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