For the past five years, Diplomatic Courier has convened the Global Talent Summit each January, right before the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, to host a multi-disciplinary conversation on what the future of jobs and education will look like by 2050 and what do we need to do to prepare for the age of technological automation. Last year the summit focused on the role of automation in creating a "Post-Employment World".  This year, the conversation took on a philosophical turn. With over 8 million social media impressions, the Summit's topics resonated beyond our host ETH Zurich's historic campus. These were the key themes, organized around the Summit's programme: No one thinks robots will take their jobs. One poll found that 94 percent of American workers think it’s unlikely they will lose their job to a robot. This is a huge disconnect—almost denial—of what the past shows is in store for this Industrial Revolution. But then again, another poll found that more Americans would rather be “dumb and happy” as opposed to “smart and sad”.  So, is it true there’s a 47% chance our jobs will be automated? Automation is already changing the workforce. In fact, robots may steal as many as 800 million jobs in the next 13 years. But we don’t know how wrong or right we are because all the studies the MIT Technology Review rounded up brought them to one firm conclusion: no one agrees. Today’s education model is antiquated. On one front, the primary education system is conditioning kids to memorize information to pass standardized tests. On the higher education front, university programs have skyrocketed in cost. We kicked off the 2018 Global Talent Summit with the focus on the future of education and how educational institutions—from early childhood to universities—are preparing us for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Education is a billion-dollar industry, which will be massively disrupted.

  The future is neither black nor white, but colorful, said Lino Guzzella, President of ETH Zurich, in his keynote address. Universities have a key role in shaping the future and academia must embrace change and risk more than ever and become more entrepreneurial. Historically, universities play a crucial role in preparing society for the future. As institutions with century-long traditions, technological changes will affect how we educate and learn in the future. Universities have sown the seeds of their own disruption, so to speak, and every university has to find its own answer to it. Beware of unproductive success; embrace productive failure. Manu Kapur, Professor of Learning Sciences & Higher Education at ETH Zurich, presented on the role of educators as designers of culture and in incorporating productive failure into education. To be prepared for the future we need to have continuous learning of character development. We produce too much knowledge and most of it is not necessary for future of work skills. We need to scale back. When you focus on doing, you come to realize that the knowledge required for doing is a very small subset of what we actually teach students. Innovation and creativity can be taught and need to be taught in early education. Anders Hedberg, global leader in STEM education policy said teachers are the primary change agents in the future of education space. To succeed, we need to empower teachers to be effective role models and help them understand the requirements of the workplace and the relevance of STEM skills in the future economy. More than ever, STEM skills include creativity, problem solving, and innovation. These are not hard skills, but more a mindset that is open to constant learning. Judge a person by their questions not by their answers. Quoting Voltaire, Venture Capitalist and Author of best-selling book The Fuzzie and The Techie, Scott Hartley advocated for the two cultures of science and liberal arts to collaborate. Rather than AI (Artificial Intelligence) we should be thinking about IA (Intelligence Augmentation). We have applied math. Why not applied philosophy? At the university level, can we implement philosophical studies into current issues, such as self-driving cars? Companies can stem the skills gap with continuing education and specialized training. Anand Chopra-McGowan, Global Head of Consumer Practice at General Assembly presented four solutions to closing the tech skills gap and they involve upskilling and education programs already in use by some of the world’s top companies. GA found hybrid roles are becoming more in-demand. One such role is that of product managers, often very difficult to hire for because they sit at the nexus of technology, design, and business.

What will humanity’s role be in the Age of Automation?

  Will artificial intelligence ever attain consciousness? And if it does, would humans even recognize it? The questions posed by professor Jacob Friis Sherson, Director of ScienceAtHome.org project at Aarhus University gave the audience an opportunity to reflect on the very nature of what work really is. Sherson argued it is a democratic imperative to keep research open to public research, not allow it to be driven by commercial interests. How do we make experiences transferable and shareable? Many of our breakthrough discoveries come from just trying different things—from our intuition so how can we tap into this collective resource? Our ability to be human is to master ourselves and to shape our own histories. Best-selling author, entrepreneur and broadcaster Andrew Keen introduced concepts discussed in his new book “How to Fix the Future.” Increasing economic inequality, he argued, is being exacerbated by technology: the wealthiest people in the world have tech backgrounds; the largest companies are technology companies. But concepts like empathy, creativity, and agency are the very things that make us human, and the very things that technology cannot replace. Education systems must adjust to teach or enhance these skills. The robots cannot open doors, let alone take over the world. Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics knows a thing or two about robots. And the conclusion is while they are amazing, they are not taking over the world anytime soon. But while robots still have trouble opening doors, we need them for agriculture, mining, construction and other potentially dangerous jobs. But why are service robots given female names, while heavy lifting robots are given male names? This taps into our instinctive behavior, explained Keay—female voices are interpreted as “nice” and male voices as “correct”.  

Occupational change will be the norm.


The world of work is completely flexible now. Learning agility and the ability to change our paradigms will be crucial for success in the future of work, said Shanthi Flynn, Chief Human Resources Officer of Adecco Group. We can learn from experience: when spot welding robots replaced jobs, workers who were agile enough to relearn and be re-trained to changing demands kept their job. This remains true in the future. Re-education is key. But it has to be cheaper. It has become like a Prada bag and we must take that branding away. Requiring educational certifications when the role doesn’t require it is lazy shorthand for employers. The future will be more about partnerships than skills. Occupational change is the new norm, said Volker Stephan, Head of Human Resources for ABB in Europe. In a structured, pre-defined area, robots are great—you can know exactly what they will do. But as soon as there is an unstructured environment, robots don't respond so well. And even though 57% of business leaders are already using machine learning to automate work, 83% of people prefer human interaction in customer service. Most importantly, in the future workplace, instead of people going to where work is, work will go to where the people are. Innovations happen when the edges of disciplines tickle each other. Carissa Carter, Director of Teaching and Learning at Stanford University, said the future of work is not linear. Our current university structures give us a currency in the form of transcript. But in the future, we have to be able to loop in-and-out of work; in-and-out of learning and the university. Even while education structures become stricter, the world of learning and work is more ambiguous than ever. Where do we land between citizen creator and robot? This is our opportunity to embrace the tension and have these tough conversations as we move to the future. Become a ‘norm entrepreneur’. Become someone who creates new norms that encourage the rest of society to act in inclusive ways so we can all thrive, said Iris Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy and Behavioral Economist at Harvard Kennedy School. Increasing inequality should be our primary worry. Wealth is growing, but inequality is increasing faster than ever before measured. How do we battle inequality? We design and contribute to our environment said Bohnet, challenging the audience: “Wherever you are, try to create a ‘clean beach’—a place free of litter, where people do not feel entitled to drop trash, dirty jokes, and micro aggressions." What we are seeing now is only the beginning of these trends. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will cause upheaval in not only our economic, but even our cultural norms. It will affect how we think about privacy, our concept of ownership, how we view work, and how we build our lives. This year’s Global Talent Summit went beyond the typical discussion on what will be the future of work and education, to tackle the deep philosophical and sociological dimensions of the digital revolution. As Chris Luebkeman, Global Director of Arup Foresight said at the beginning of the day: “change is constant and everything inconvenient will change.” How we prepare for that change will hinge in whether we are asking the right questions. We ended our GTS 2018 with more questions than we started. You can continue the conversation year-round by signing up for our events and discussions at www.globaltalentsummit.org.

Ana C. Rold
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. Rold teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.