Designing Career Pipelines to Fit Tomorrow’s Jobs

Artificial intelligence (AI) is radically changing how individuals approach and complete daily tasks. According to a recent Northeastern University/Gallup survey, 85 percent of Americans currently use at least one device, program or service that includes AI features, and we are only in the early stages of AI implementation.

As it becomes more pervasive, AI will cause major disruptions in the workforce. Automation will eliminate the need for some jobs, change the nature of others and create entirely new career opportunities. Nonprofits will need to play a significant role in helping people adapt to these changes and educating them about what AI means for their future roles in the workplace. These changes also create a compelling opportunity for philanthropists interested in using technology for social good.

“Some segments of the workforce are going to be more affected than others,” said Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL. “Nonprofits operating in the workforce development and education spaces need to think about what the future of work looks like and not only train for jobs that exist today, but embed long-lasting, future-proof skills like problem-solving that stay with people through rapid career changes.”

Tess Posner speaking about Artificial Intelligence

AI4ALL works to increase diversity in artificial intelligence. The Bay Area-based nonprofit partners with universities to expose high school students to AI and to funnel talent from underrepresented demographics into the field.

Hosting summer camps at prestigious universities, including Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon, AI4ALL connects students likely to be excluded from the innovation economy with top AI labs. During these rigorous one-to-three-week camps, students receive technical AI training and work on research projects talented industry leaders.

“There’s a lack of representation among women, minorities and people from different backgrounds in AI,” Posner said. “This will lead to AI not living up to its full potential. Diverse teams are more profitable, better functioning and more creative and innovative. The promise of AI won’t be fulfilled if only a small set of individuals are working on it.”

Participating students learn about the applications of AI and see how it can solve big issues in related to healthcare, social justice and the environmental. By demonstrating AI’s potential and connecting them with mentors, the goal is to inspire these students to pursue their interest in AI and explore related job pathways.

Several AI4ALL students have won national AI awards, including one high schooler who took home the prestigious Best Paper Award over 200 other submissions – mostly from adults – at last year’s Machine Learning for Health workshop at the Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems.

By learning firsthand about the potential applications of AI, students can develop projects based on the specific needs of their communities. For example, Stephanie Tena grew up in a family of farm workers in a rural, low-income area in California and is currently working on a project to use AI techniques like machine learning to identify the flow of contaminated water.

Unfortunately, many people are cut off from the pipeline to AI careers early in life. For example, studies show that by age 15, girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM fields, and existing programs to encourage youth coding often do not yet include AI. The role of nonprofit organizations like AI4ALL and the targeted work of philanthropists both have critical roles to play in filling this void.

“When people see that this technology can be used to solve problems in their communities, it’s likely we’ll see ‘moonshots’ and more innovative applications,” Posner said. “It’s critical to bring more people in and lift up those examples. Imagine what could be possible from this incredible tool if it’s in the hands of enough people with different backgrounds.”

Important issues around bias and discrimination arise when the group of people developing AI products is homogeneous. For example, studies have shown that facial recognition system accuracy varies wildly when attempting to recognize whites versus people of color. This can be caused by a lack of diversity in the samples used to develop these systems.

AI will contribute as much as $15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. However, without exposure to a diverse cross-section of the population, AI risks missing its full potential. Engineers, philanthropists and nonprofits alike must adapt to take on these new challenges as technology advances.

To learn more about AI’s effect on the workforce and the role of nonprofits in preparing for these changes, attend the “How AI is Impacting the Jobs of the Future” session at Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Innovation Conference, Sept. 16-18, 2018, in San Francisco.