“Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029.” Ray Kurzweil, American computer scientist, author, inventor, and futurist.
It’s been a mainstay of science fiction for decades, but most likely now lives in your kitchen, living room and even your pocket – Artificial Intelligence.
It’s hard to keep up with advances in this area; just when you think you might have understood some of the latest technology, it’s changed again, and we’re not the only ones struggling. Recent research has shown that the education system is lagging, and as a result young people aren’t being prepared for the future working world.
A Skills Gap
Some recently published research from The&Partnership and YouGov found that:
- 85% of young people surveyed in the UK felt they didn't learn workplace skills for ‘digital forward’ jobs such as computer office skills, knowledge of tech platforms, computer coding, financial skills, and employability skills, and wish they had a chance to learn it in scho
- 42% felt that they were not equipped with workplace and employability skills during formal education.
Further research from YouGov (also commissioned by Amazon) suggests that this lack of preparation extends specifically to AI.
- More than two thirds (68%) of secondary school teachers surveyed said children don’t have enough information to understand future career opportunities that involve computer science and AI.
- One third (33%) of secondary school children surveyed said they had only heard of AI in science fiction movies and literature.
- Almost one third (31%) of secondary school parents surveyed said they would pay for extra-curricular computer science classes for their children if they could, because their children do not receive these at school.
To put all this into some wider context, a report from Capital Economics, estimates that over the next 5 years, the demand for jobs requiring computer science, AI or machine learning skills in the UK, is expected to increase by 40%. If there is insufficient education to support young people in developing skills and expertise in these areas, we will start to see a skills deficit in the UK work marketplace that leaves young people struggling to engage in the global jobs market.
An uncertain future
At the Youthscape Centre for Research we are in the middle of a project called ‘Translating God’ which has involved exploring young people’s experience of the world through focus groups across the UK. Unsurprisingly, uncertainty about the future has been a key theme in these discussions and has often centred on the instability created by the pandemic, climate change and war. But it has included insecurity about what a young person can reasonably hope for when it comes to future work in the context of technological innovation. As one young man told us:
“I think there’s definitely uncertainty for me over what I want to do. Because, for me, I want to become a pilot, but obviously with modern day technology things like being a pilot or working in a call centre or anything that’s to do with customer support - in 20 years we might have robots flying planes, robots talking to people over the phone. So, the people who are very focused on something that’s quite maybe old-school then there’s a lot less stuff to do.”
What about faith?
The world is changing around young people and the evidence is starting to show that our current structures just aren’t preparing them well enough for it. These pieces of research are exploring and asking how well we’re equipping young people educationally for the coming AI world, but perhaps as youth workers we also need to be asking ourselves another question: “How well are we equipping young people theologically and spirituallyfor the AI world?”
Dr John Wyatt, Neonatal Professor, Doctor, scientist and theologian, poses these questions:
“As technology advances it raises the age-old question of ‘What does it mean to be human?’, but in new and surprising ways. What will it mean it be human in a world of intelligent machines. And if the machines can take over most of the roles and tasks which we thought were uniquely human, ‘What are human beings for?’” (https://johnwyatt.com/technology/)
This may well leave you feeling completely out of your depth. But if part of our role as youth leaders is to equip young people to walk faithfully in the world they find themselves in, we cannot stick our heads in the sand as far as upcoming technology goes. In our young people’s life times, AI will take on an increasing role in the day to day lives of ordinary people, AI will own an increasing number of moral and ethical choices, and AI will only keep becoming more complex and, well, intelligent.
If schools need to start educating young people for these coming developments, so do our churches and youth ministries.
Do some thinking
Why not start by thinking about some of these issues for yourself. There are several organisations already providing resources to get your brain going. Here are just a few.*
- Why should Christians care about Artificial Intelligence? (St Mary Magdelen School of Theology) - https://www.theschooloftheology.org/posts/essay/why-should-christians-care-artificial-intelligence
- Faraday Institute - https://www.faraday.cam.ac.uk/research/robotics-and-ai/
- Faraday Teens - https://faradayteens.com/teens/robots-and-ai
- Care - https://care.org.uk/cause/technology
- Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles https://erlc.com/resource-library/statements/artificial-intelligence-an-evangelical-statement-of-principle
* Sharing these is not an endorsement of any particular resource or statement, but is designed to help us think about the implications of AI from a faith perspective, as we work out what we personally believe.