Opinion: Science and engineering will dominate new careers

Source: Houston Chronicle | Chris Tomlinson

If the idea of designing and building drones that can carry people appeals to you, the online education company Udacity has just rolled out a college degree in flying cars.

Uber, Google and a slew of Chinese start-ups all want to build self-flying taxis to carry the wealthy over traffic-clogged city streets, and they will need people with degrees like the one offered by Udacity. But there are prerequisites: substantial computer programming experience, calculus, basic linear algebra, statistics and physics.


A quick peek into the future reveals that more and more jobs, and certainly the best-paying jobs, will require backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. And not just one or two of those fields, but experience applying all four disciplines to meet the complex needs of tomorrow's consumers.

If autonomous, flying taxis seem like a crazy idea today, consider that a decade ago ride sharing company Uber did not exist, and self-driving cars seemed like science fiction. Tesla launched its first electric car in 2008, when most people considered it an expensive novelty sold only to celebrities.

The world is changing quickly, and with more computing power than ever before, 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet, according to a study by the Institute for the Future and paid for by Dell Technologies.

More disturbingly, though, a new study from the World Economic Forum predicts that 1 million Americans will see their occupation vanish by 2026.

Some may worry that technology will make human workers obsolete, but history shows that every time a new technology has eliminated jobs, that same technology creates careers we can't even imagine yet.

The problem is that innovations will come so fast and furious that the workforce of the future will need to constantly learn new skills to keep up. People who are poorly educated, or inflexible, will suffer.

"We've been exposed to two extreme perspectives about machines and the future: The anxiety-driven issue of technological unemployment or the over-optimistic view that technology will cure all our social and environmental ills," said Rachel Maguire, research director at the institute. "We need to focus on what the new relationship between technology and people could look like and how we can prepare accordingly."

Humans who can leverage artificial intelligence to create new products and services will certainly prosper, according to a new study by Accenture, a global business services and consulting company.


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If all companies invested in artificial intelligence the same way as today's top-performers, they could boost revenues 38 percent by 2022 and raise employment levels by 10 percent, the study found. Of 1,200 executives surveyed, 72 percent said AI was critical to their company's future and 61 percent said the number of workers using AI will grow over the next three years.

"Business leaders must take immediate steps to pivot their workforce to enter an entirely new world where human ingenuity meets intelligent technology to unlock new forms of growth," said Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture. "Workers are impatient to collaborate with AI, giving leaders the opportunity to demonstrate true Applied Intelligence within their organization."

The time to prepare for this new working world is now.

STEM education must begin in grade school, and it will require more than learning about Isaac Newton or using a computer. Children will need to learn logic and deductive reasoning, which only mathematics teaches, so that they learn how to learn, and know how to figure out complex problems.

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