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Open the pod bay door or I'll knock the A.I. out of you.

 
Mr. Brien McHugh's picture

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I usually tackle lightweight subjects in an offhand, snarky sort-of way. Sorry, if that's what you came here for today.

I’ve just read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a report from the fairly-reputable McKinsey and Company. McKinsey’s report details Where machines could replace Humans and where they can’t (yet). It turns out we humans like talking with other humans, which means – and this is the point of the Chronicle article – robots will save liberal education.

Or rather robots won’t be able, in the near future, to replicate the informed, empathetic human interaction that we crave so much and that the liberal education programs teach so well. Remember, this isn’t liberal education as in liberal/conservative…it is liberal education as in philosophy, english, oral communication, theology, argumentation and other university disciplines that teach us what it means to be decent, thoughtful, compassionate human beings.

The article quotes an author, Jeff Colvin, who gives a brilliant example: Machines can perform complicated surgeries far more efficiently than human doctors but "we want to hear our diagnosis from a doctor, even if a computer supplied it, because we want to talk to the doctor about it — perhaps just to talk and know we’re being heard by another human being." The Chronicle article continues:

“The hallmarks of a liberal education — building an ethical foundation that values the well-being of others, strengthening the mental muscles that allow you to acquire new knowledge quickly, and developing the skills to apply it effectively in rapidly shifting contexts — are not luxuries but necessities for preparing professionals for the coming transformation of knowledge work to relationship work.”

Follow me while I simplify this so that even a doofus like me can understand: robots may replace humans for routine financial transactions or medical procedures or lawn mowing but not for occupations that rely on dynamic human interaction like pastors, teachers, nurses or coaches. Why? According to the article, “The reason is simple: People need interaction with other people to become better people, better citizens, and better employees. We have long relied on liberal education to produce such people, and all indications are that we will need it for many more years to come.”

So when the machines have plugged all you lawyers and CEOs into the matrix, we teachers, with our acceptable salaries and adequate benefits packages, will be like gods. Mwwwwaaaaah!!! Don't worry, we'll be merciful. Because of the liberal education we got, oh so many years ago, we have no choice but to be merciful.

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