The most critical resource, in any country, is human capital. A skilled workforce and an oiled educational system lie at the foundation of high-value-added services. With the proliferation of AI, we expect existent work practices to be disrupted, thus creating not only new opportunities but also new challenges.
We have seen a lot of predictions in the past year. Some experts foretell that around 40% of all jobs will disappear in the coming years. Others say that the AI revolution will create millions of new posts, some of which have not even been invented yet.
There is nothing new in this. If we have a look at what happened when the banks introduced Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), we can see a similar pattern. With the deployment of ATMs, many predicted the end of bank tellers. However, statistics show otherwise. In 1985, there were 60,000 ATMs in the US and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the number of ATMs rose to 352,000 while the number of bank tellers rose to 527,000.
Our interpretation of this is that many people were finding it convenient to make use of the new machines; hence, the number of banking transactions began to soar. On the other hand, banks started focusing on better customer service; thus adding more employees to their branches to handle more complex tasks. We can also see this pattern happening today with online banking. Even though some banks closed several branches and 90% of transactions are taking place online, the number of bank employees in the US is practically the same. It goes to prove that it is not just a matter of automation taking over human jobs.
The truth of what will happen is most probably somewhere in between. Let’s make it clear that in most cases, AI will not take over jobs, but it will automate specific tasks within that job.
In essence, the job market will change as follows;
· Some jobs will become obsolete such as driving. Self-driving cars will be able to transport people and goods around without the need of a human chauffeur.
· Some jobs will not be affected much by AI, such as nursing. In the caring profession, the human element is still critical and essential.
· Some new jobs will be created, such as Organ Creators, whose role will be to develop organs and body parts from organic material.
· Many existent jobs will change forever. These range from low paid jobs such as store assistants up to high paid jobs such as lawyers. AI will augment their tasks in such a way as to make them safer, faster and more precise.
To prepare for this revolution, we need to help the workers of today and those of tomorrow, adapt and acquire new skills. We can achieve this by implementing the following measures:
The first step in any AI strategy is to inform the general public on how AI can significantly improve their quality of life. A survey conducted by the Malta
AI task-force found that even though 60% of respondents had heard about AI, but they do not understand what it really is. Initially, only 42% of the respondents assumed that they had interacted with an AI system, but when they were confronted with specific examples, this number shot up to 80%. People do not realize that they are using AI because computerized systems do not explicitly mention it. Thus, it is essential to help people understand how to recognize an AI system. In so doing, they can harness its potential while shedding potential fears which they might have.
To tackle this, the Government will launch a national AI awareness campaign aimed at reassuring people and help them build trust in AI.
Considering that the impact on the job market can be rather complicated, a think tank will be set up to tackle these issues. Its role will be to conduct research, propose concrete actions, open a dialogue between different stakeholders, setup training paths and draft potential incentives. In so doing, we hope to identify future skill gaps and help up-skill people working in the affected industries.
Vulnerable workers will also benefit from a national reskilling programme aimed at helping them develop new digital skills through short courses and on-the-job training. Employers will also be supported to make use of external
training programs. To achieve this, we will make use of the €5m “Investing in Skills” programme financed by the European Social Fund (ESF).
Educators are the people who are actively creating the workforce of tomorrow. Because of this, they must be equipped with the best AI tools aimed at assisting them (but without creating any additional burden). AI components will be introduced in the courses leading to a teaching degree, thus ensuring that new teachers are well equipped. On the other hand, established educators will be informed about new developments which concern them, thus making them aware of the different opportunities which exist. Training will also be provided at all levels. Educators wishing to obtain certification from abroad may also do so through a financial reimbursement scheme.
Every year, the Ministry of Education plans to organize an annual conference on AI in education aimed at reaching these goals while also celebrating good practices. Cutting edge pedagogical approaches will be immediately disseminated to the educators in Malta through the participation of international experts.
Different initiatives will also be launched to target students and their families. These include, but not limited to;
· The AI Family Challenge is a program where families, schools and communities work together under the guidance of a mentor to solve a challenge using AI.
· AI themed weekends and hands-on workshops for children of all ages.
· AI Olympiad aimed at challenging students to solve real-world problems using AI. The winning team will attend the Global AI Congress.
Schools will also benefit from the deployment of a personalized AI learning system. The education AI system will manage the progression of children in compulsory education; customizing their path in such a way as to provide them with a gradual personalized learning curve.
From an administrative point of view, AI will be introduced at all levels, thus helping in the collection and aggregation of data. The AI management system will then predict analytical trends and help decision makers take informed decisions. The results of such a system can be various; such as the launch of new policies or interventions on children that are not progressing through the educational system as they should. This measure is, of course, a long term goal and can only be achieved with the active input of educators, unions, parents, students and other stakeholders.
All of these projects will be championed by a specific working group tasked with the nationwide introducing AI in education.
Graduates & Post-Graduates
The University of Malta is already at the forefront when it comes to AI. The AI department has its roots in the early 90s, and in the past years, its courses saw a massive increase in the number of students. However, irrespective of their area of study, it is crucial for graduates to understand the benefits of AI. Because of this, the University of Malta will be offering AI elective in all the courses offered by the different Faculties.
Furthermore, the University will launch an AI platform, an interdisciplinary entity within the University aimed at fostering collaborations between different faculties and institutions over the coming years. In so doing, the University will be able to increase the number of students, academics, research areas and specializations. It will also boost collaborations with public and private organisations, thus accelerating AI awareness.
The Malta Council of Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST), will also be introducing essential AI components in all its courses. It will also launch AI-specific post-graduate programmes in the coming five years.
The Ministry of Education will also support private higher education institutions to help them develop AI-related modules.
To sustain this, the Government will also offer 50 scholarships per year to help more students undertake AI research at post-graduate level. Furthermore, the Tertiary Education Scholarship Scheme (TESS) will still be available to support students studying abroad. Moreover, anyone who obtains a Masters or Doctoral degree will qualify for a tax credit of one or two years respectively (for the first €60,000 of earnings).
The road ahead
There’s a long way to go. One which will help us reduce our educational gaps, ensure that everyone achieves his full potential, support children at risk, re-skill our workforce and mold the professionals of the future. It won’t be easy, and the road ahead will take us towards exploring uncharted territory. What’s for sure is that we are in the right direction towards turning Malta into an AI launchpad. We are working not only to shape our Island with the use of AI but also our neighboring continents for years to come.
Author: Prof Alexiei Dingli