What personal qualities do we need in the future?

August 30, 2023 08:13
Photo: Hong Kong Government

With a lack of ground-breaking technological innovation over the past few decades in the highly industrialised countries, the labour productivity growth there has diminished. This is the conclusion of a German study on 25 countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britian. Without a great leap forward in productivity like mechanisation, economic growth and the income of workers have stagnated.

No wonder parents around the world are pessimistic about the next generation’s financial well-being. A 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a median of 70% of adults across 19 countries including Japan, South Korea, Australia, the U.K. the U.S., said that “children will be worse off financially than their parents”. Parents tend to see the worst aspect of things, but such widespread negative sentiment is quite rare in this annual survey.

With AlphaGo defeating the world Go human champion in 2016 and the generative artificial intelligence (AI) ChatGPT released at the end of 2022, people start thinking again whether advanced technologies will subvert the world as prophesied. Will humanity one day succumb to AI?

I, however, think that in the next five, ten or 50 years, even if AI or other innovative technologies become common, a greater demand for certain personal qualities required in the interaction and cooperation between humans and advanced technologies will remain unchanged.

The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2023 released at the end of April predicts that as many as 69 million new jobs may emerge by 2027 to meet a new division of labour between human and AI machines. The latter will focus on tasks of information processing, administrative and manual tasks. What makes humans retain their advantage include management, decision-making, communication, interpersonal and human-computer interaction. New job positions include data analysis scientist, AI and machine learning specialist, big data specialist and digital marketing and strategy specialist, and more.

Therefore, we need to promote digital literacy. We need to have better understanding of digital technology, not only its benefits but also the drawbacks and ethical risks it poses, such as cybersecurity and personal privacy.

The Hong Kong government has followed this trend. In the Policy Address last year, the government proposed to put more emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics). Then the Education Bureau launched AI modules earlier this year for junior secondary level students. Topics include basic concepts, ethics, computer vision, computer speech and virtual reality, and the impact of robotics and AI on society. This is undoubtedly on the right track. However, I can’t help wondering how effective it can be with just six to seven lessons each of 35 minutes, or about four hours of study a year in a busy academic curriculum.

If AI is also applied to school life, it can enrich the learning experience. For example, using AI to relieve teachers of routine tasks, answering students' frequently asked questions (virtual teaching assistants can answer 40% of students' common questions, according to research), and even grading routine assignments (research shows machine learning and predictive modelling can have 85% match with human grading) can assist teachers, so that they can concentrate more on identifying early disengagement of students. The first-hand experience of human-machine collaboration also helps teachers and students to reflect on how to use innovative technology and create greater value.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong