Artificial intelligence and robots have already been taking over jobs in manufacturing but now they are moving on to replace more cognitive roles, Ireland’s leading EdTech summit in Dublin heard today.

However, Future of Work experts fear that we are all so obsessed with our own technology – such as smart phones – that we won’t be creative enough to do anything about it.

Learnovation is a one-day EdTech summit held at Croke Park today which is examining the innovations changing the face of education and how formal and corporate learning should prepare learners for the future of work.

It is being organised by The Learnovate Centre, one of Europe’s leading learning research and innovation centres in learning technologies, based at Trinity College Dublin.

Funded by Enterprise Ireland, The Learnovate Centre is an industry-led technology centre made up of expert researchers using emerging technology to help transform the lives of learners in the workplace, schools, at third level and in the home.

One of the keynote speakers, Peter Cosgrove, a Future of Work Expert, told Learnovation that if we don’t start upskilling for the future jobs, we will be left behind

“This is scary for a lot of people but it’s happening already so we just have to face up to it. It’s not a very palatable thought but if you look at non-tech or non-manufacturing industries, you can see how technology is changing them already. Look how Airbnb and Uber have come into the market out of nowhere and changed the hospitality and transport industries,” said Mr Cosgrove, who was the founder of the Future of Work Institute in Ireland.

“AI and robots have been taking jobs in manufacturing for a while but they are now moving onto more cognitive jobs. AI can now do accounting functions and file tax returns so we need to seriously examine what skills we need to survive when these traditional jobs are gone. No job is going to last the length of a lifetime, or even 20 years.

If you asked a farmer 50 years ago what jobs his children or grandchildren would be doing, he couldn’t have envisaged this world of bloggers – or even the internet itself. It’s no different today but we have to be ready for it; we need to be focusing on improving our human skills – like communication and influence – that robots will have difficulty replacing.”

Mr Cosgrove said there was a role for government, employers and employees to upskill workers for a different future working landscape. But he is worried that we are all too obsessed with our smart phones and tablets to do anything about it.

“My biggest concern is how invasive technology is becoming in all places. If we can’t put our phones or tablets down, how can we be creative and look at what we need for the future of work. Everything we want is now in our hands but too much of what we want can sometimes not be good. There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’ that’s the tech industry and the drug industry, both you could argue are equally addictive. To continue to innovate and come up with new solutions, we need to take time away from technology and give our brains a chance to be creative.”

Mr Cosgrove’s thoughts are echoed by Learnovate Centre Director Owen White. He said:

“The future worlds of education and work will be very different to those we experience today. The ongoing emergence of new research in psychology and the learning sciences are driving change in the way our society views teaching and learning, and the role and format of second-level and third-level institutions.

In the workplace, artificial intelligence is primed to change the balance of jobs carried out by humans and machines. This rebalancing will precipitate a shift in the skills required by organisations.”

Gaming and virtual reality and its role in education and workplace learning was also one of the topics covered at Learnovation today. Mairead Brady, Assistant Professor at the Trinity Business School, TCD, spoke about how gaming can be helpful to teach at third level but we must use it at our peril.

“Game-based learning is on trend and can be really helpful but we use gaming for learning at our peril. Winning and losing is an important part of gaming but the winner-takes-all mentality does not help learners with critical thinking. Students need to understand that failure is OK and learning only happens when you are failing,” says Ms Brady who uses gaming in her lecture halls.

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