We must update education to keep our edge - South China Morning Post



We must update education to keep our edge

A recent study from OpenAI and the University of Pennsylvania found that OpenAI's latest language-processing model GPT-4 could most affect educated, white-collar workers earning around US$80,000 a year in the US workforce, including financial analysts, accountants and writers.

No wonder parents around the world are pessimistic about the next generation's financial future. A 2022 survey by the Pew Research Centre found that a median of 70 per cent of adults across 19 countries – including Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – said they thought the next generation would earn less than their parents.

If advanced technologies one day replace a large portion of our current jobs, though, the need for human-robot collaboration and some human qualities will be even more acute. These qualities include spatial intelligence and empathy.

The World Economic Forum's The Future of Jobs Report 2020 predicts that as many as 97 million new jobs could emerge in the coming years, requiring a new division of labour between humans and artificial intelligence machines. The latter will focus on information processing, and administrative and manual tasks, while humans cover management, decision-making, communication and interpersonal and human-computer interaction.

Therefore, we need to promote digital literacy. Hong Kong's Education Bureau is following this trend by launching AI modules this year at the junior secondary level. This is on the right track, but I wonder how effective it can be with just four hours of study a year in a busy academic curriculum.

Applying AI to school life can enrich the learning experience. For example, AI could automate teachers' routine tasks, answer questions frequently asked by students and even grade routine assignments so teachers can concentrate on identifying signs of early disengagement in students.

Further, spatial intelligence will be indispensable in the future. Smart cities use a massive amount of data. With the number of connected devices worldwide expected to jump to 125 billion in 2030, according to IHS Markit, geographic information systems (GIS) can efficiently collate and analyse data to help make better decisions.

These systems, which combine knowledge of spatial geography, statistics, mathematics and modelling, can help visualise the results of analysis for easy communication and sharing with different stakeholders. Combining these systems and big data can make it easier to explore deeper insights, such as helping the Fire Services Department analyse images taken by drones to find and rescue missing hikers faster and more efficiently.

Spatial data is a driver of the new economy. According to the UK government, the private sector using location data in areas such as retail, logistics and mobility could unlock an economic value of up to £11 billion (US$13.8 billion) a year.

Despite this, there is a serious shortage of talent with geospatial expertise. Hong Kong is no exception. We need to start with education. I hope the authorities will add GIS to the existing curriculum to enrich young people's problem-solving skills, expand the local talent pool and build an advanced smart city.

Smartphones have conquered the world with their ease of use, thanks to user experience (UX) design, which blends mathematical engineering, psychology and marketing.

The tech industry has long been dominated by men, with women making up only 28 per cent of the US tech workforce as of 2022. But according to human resources firm Zippia, four out of 10 UX design positions are held by women.

A 2022 study of more than 300,000 people in 57 countries by researchers at the University of Cambridge showed women scored better than men on a test that measured putting themselves in others' shoes and imagining what the other person is thinking or feeling. This sounds a lot like UX, which AI does not take into account.

Women should make the best use of this advantage to not only to fight for better pay but also to promote the application of technology. However, while women have accounted for more than half of university students in Hong Kong for more than 10 years, less than 40 per cent of them are studying STEM subjects. The number of people working in the information and communications industry rose from 109,000 in 2008 to 132,000 in 2021, but the proportion of female employees saw no growth, from 32 per cent in 2008 to 31 per cent 13 years later.

As AI has started to be a key competitor in the workforce, we should bank on our unique quality of human empathy to keep the upper hand.




Dr. Winnie Tang
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