Last week, we focused on the importance of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector for emerging nations such as Sri Lanka. In a positive sign that AI is gaining momentum here, Budget 2024 has proposed the setting up of a separate National Centre for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI), which is expected to be a hub for AI development not just in Sri Lanka, but also in South Asia as a whole.
The Budget also included proposals for establishing four new universities as well as permitting some existing higher educational institutions to award degrees. Moreover, foreign universities will also be allowed to set up faculties or branches here. Several local private universities will also be established.
It is expected that subjects such as AI, Quantum and Neural Computing, Robotics and Automation, and Machine Learning (ML) will be a core component of studies at these universities. Even the proposed Climate Change University in Sri Lanka will benefit from AI modeling of weather patterns and so on.
The dramatic rise of AI has led to a robust debate on whether some jobs will become obsolete in the next few years. This has also led economists and futurists to categorise jobs that can survive the AI onslaught or even thrive in spite of it.
This is a challenging environment – ChatGPT is already able to write a comprehensive essay on Malaria, but only a human writer or journalist can truly portray the human misery behind the dreaded disease.
Singapore, a country that we often admire for its rapid rise to developed status, has added grist to this debate by releasing a Report titled “Skills Demand for the Future Economy” which highlights 24 top jobs and skills that are expected to grow in demand despite the growth in the AI sector.
Ironically and paradoxically, this study, released on Friday (17), is based on prediction modelling, itself an AI technique used to anticipate future demand.
These include care economy skills such as effective client communication, as well as digital economy skills such as qualitative analysis and software design.
These skills were also highlighted for being highly transferable across sectors and job roles. So-called “Industry 4.0” skills, which refer to using automation and smart solutions to improve various processes in manufacturing, were also featured in this forecast.
Such skills, ranging from process engineering design to technical writing, which requires communicating complex information, are expected to be in increasing demand over the next few years.
The report also provides updated information on skills that have remained in high demand over the past decade worldwide and career pathways for specific jobs in Asia and elsewhere. The report makes it clear that mid-career transitions will become more common as people move within and across job sectors affected by AI.
As per the report, despite the rapidly changing jobs landscape, some skills have remained highly relevant for the past 10 years. For example, communication has consistently been ranked as the most in-demand skill worldwide, alongside four other top core skills – creative thinking, collaboration, problem-solving and self-management. Even with the rise of AI, good writers still have a future.
It is interesting to note that the Report mentions three main areas that can still fly high in the AI age – Care, Digital and Green economies. Indeed, a robot cannot still acquire the skills of a personal caregiver who is specialised in caring for elderly persons or patients.
According to the Report, Green skills such as Carbon Footprint Management (CFM) – to measure and reduce the amount of Greenhouse Gases emitted – will be increasingly sought after by companies worldwide. Urban farming is another exciting field that will create thousands of jobs.
Yes, AI will take some jobs away, but it will also create some. There will be a huge demand worldwide for engineers and coders who can develop AI tools and algorithms, robots and similar devices.
They will also be tasked with developing AI software or applications that help employees complete tasks better and faster. They should also be ready for the next wave of digital transformation – the automation of decision-making through AI. Such techniques are already used in the healthcare industry, for example to more swiftly diagnose cancer or Covid cases.
As we argued last week, AI should not essentially be perceived as only a threat, despite what certain tech leaders are saying. AI brings a host of opportunities to the table and it can actually help many people to do their jobs more efficiently.
The challenge for our educationists in this case is to identify the jobs that can grow alongside AI and develop curricula that cater to that need. We hope that the new universities that have been proposed in the Budget will take this factor into account when drafting their courses. The mismatch between the job market and our education system has impeded our growth all these years.
It is essential to address this lacuna and our policymakers should study the success of countries such as Singapore and South Korea which have made vast strides thanks to their university systems which are attuned to modern needs