How AI will put the focus of education on project-based learning

By Charles Towers-Clark. Posted 02 March 2018

The future of work is going to change drastically due to the ability of AI to process specialized roles. Any job which is specialized can be processed. Any process can be handled by AI. Meanwhile, those currently in education are being trained in those same specialized skills that will be redundant by the time they enter the world of work. While not every specialism will be replaced by AI, the focus of education must change now, so that AI complements rather than competes with the future workforce.

Take lawyers for example. Aside from the human element of litigation, a large part of a lawyer’s role is to process legal information, often looking at past cases to see trends in which legal arguments tend to win. AI could do this in seconds. Imagine trying to sell your years of experience at $400 per hour for a 40-hour project, versus a piece of code that will handle the entire case for $400!

Ironically, coding can also be included as part of the AI skillset, and the focus on teaching kids how to code may be somewhat missing the point. Much like lawyers, coders are at risk since writing code is a specialism that, in time, will be achieved by AI. There are of course caveats to this; machines are not great at writing test code, as they cannot consider external factors such as business objectives or human irrationality. So, there is a place for humanity after all, but certainly not a need to get every child to be a coder.

From specialization to generalization

Education must move away from creating specialists who are great at handling specific processes. While producing ‘jacks of all trades’ is not necessarily the answer, the human ability to extrapolate and generalise should be celebrated and used to teach students how to manage projects. By doing so, students will be trained to bring together diverse knowledge and skills using their emotional intelligence (something which AI cannot replicate) to help orchestrate the process-driven work that computers will take care of.

A great, current example of this is the work of Ricardo Semler, who moved from the success of a democratic and empowering business to creating a democratic school. Rather than pushing traditional subjects, the Lumiar Schools in São Paulo, Brazil, let the students choose what to study. For example, in 2014 the children asked to learn about the Brazilian World Cup, which introduced them to a vast range of skills and disciplines such as architecture, human resources, and accounting. As a result, they learned how these different areas are brought together to successfully manage projects, especially on a macro scale.

Project-based teaching is precisely where education at all levels, both for children and adults, needs to evolve. This type of learning will be the best defence against a jobs market dominated by AI and will capitalise on our greatest asset – the ability to think outside the box.

Charles Towers-Clark is the CEO of Pod Group, a provider of IoT connectivity & billing software. His upcoming book ‘Fire the CEO’ will discuss the impact of AI on the future of work as well as how we need to change our approach to work and society to cope with this changing world.