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- In their new book "The Future Computed," Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum discuss the future of artificial intelligence.
- They argue that one of "the most important conclusions" they drew was the need for more liberal arts majors in tech.
- As consumer-ready AI reaches human parity, they say, lessons from disciplines like psychology will be increasingly important.
In 2011, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates told a panel of American governors that a liberal arts education would hold back college graduates in the modern economy.
A few days later, late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs declared that "it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing."
Seven years later, Gates' company is siding with Jobs.
Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum wrote in their new book "The Future Computed" that "one of the most important conclusions" of Microsoft's recent research into artificial intelligence is that lessons from liberal arts will be critical to unleashing the full potential of AI.
Smith and Shum wrote:
"At one level, AI will require that even more people specialize in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering, and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions."
The two executives imagine a world in which our daily lives will be inextricably linked to AI.
For example, developers of driverless cars are already confronting ethical challenges like how a car should rank safety priorities of passengers and pedestrians in unavoidable accidents.
Ultimately, Smith and Shum argued, teams developing new uses for AI with human parity will need to include members with both engineering and liberal arts backgrounds. And both sides will need to know aspects of the other, as well.
"If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering," Smith and Shum wrote.
You can download the book "The Future Computed" for free at Microsoft's website. Print copies will also be available at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting for 2018 in Davos.
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