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Gov’t support seen needed to help education system adjust to AI, IBM executive says

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A visitor experiences the da Vinci Si robotic surgical system by Intuitive during the World Artificial Intelligence Conference 2018 in Shanghai on Sept. 18. -- AFP

By Denise A. Valdez

DEALING with the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and the threat of job losses should be a greater concern for the government in addressing key reforms to the education system, an executive from IBM Philippines, Inc. said.

In a P&A Grant Thornton forum on AI impact on businesses in Makati City, IBM Philippines Chief Technology Officer Lope A. Doromal, Jr. said students need to be trained as early as possible to adapt to the evolving industry which itself is adjusting to AI.

“Obviously there’s a lot of mathematics and science involved in AI, and I think there is some way to go in terms of getting our students some of the skills needed to help them in their AI journey,” he said.

Mr. Doromal said he believes any job that focuses on memorization is in danger of becoming obsolete.

“The problem with that statement is our education system is still geared toward memorizing things. We need to teach our students to become creative. It’s easy to research things nowadays. You don’t need to memorize many things as long as you know how to find those pieces of information. What’s important is critical thinking, putting these pieces of information together,” he added.

In an interview after the forum, Mr. Doromal said the growing penetration of AI in various companies and industries has started to appear threatening to some business leaders and workers. He said their impression was of “man versus machine” because of the tendency to represent the phenomenon as a process of replacing human resources.

He said this should not be the case, and that AI should be seen as an aid in improving the work processes across industries and a driver for the enhancement of human talent.

“As we automate things, we need to start looking for people to move up the value chain and make them more productive in other parts of the organization. It doesn’t mean that people will lose their jobs, it just means that their jobs will transform into something more productive,” he said.

He said since an AI-dominated work environment is “probably inevitable,” the government must begin looking at how it educates people to allow them to move up the value chain.

“The threat that AI poses is that it can potentially displace some of the jobs that are sort of repetitive, that don’t really require creativity, critical thinking…. To anticipate that, the government also needs to start looking at how do we now train our people so that they can move up the value chain,” he said.

Mr. Doromal said computers, mobile phones and the Internet were once seen as threats as well, but simply displaced technologies like typewriters and landline telephones and were eventually perceived as more helpful than harmful.

“I think the same thing will also happen with AI. It will make us more productive. It will allow us to do our jobs faster, better. And hopefully it will give us more time to enjoy other things rather than just working,” he said.