Justin Spangenthal Cronkite News
TEMPE — The robots are taking our jobs!
That human fear of artificial intelligence has long been a polarizing topic in American pop and tech culture, politics, and even some academic circles, and it’s growing as AI technology becomes more prevalent.
AI technology has progressed significantly since its inception in the 1950s. An Arizona company is doing its part to debunk common AI misconceptions by educating the future generation of AI engineers.
“I think we can unravel a lot from it, like some people call AI a black box, and that’s such a made-up term because it’s complex, it’s confusing and it’s deep in its analytical nature,” said Alec Evans, assistant director of data science for DriveTime, an online car dealership and finance company based in Tempe.
In October and November, DriveTime partnered with the Mark Cuban Foundation to host the first in Arizona Mark Cuban Foundation AI Boot Camp for high school students.
People also read…
“And I think what we’re doing here with the students is demystifying that and saying, ‘You use it every day, you see it every day, you just don’t know that’s what it is,’ can really open students’ minds for this new career opportunity,” Evans said.
AI is a general term that encompasses many innovations such as machine learning and natural language processing. However, AI still has limits, making it unable to perform many of the tasks that humans routinely perform.
“The biggest problem arises when there is a mismatch between the capabilities of the actual technology and society’s perceptions. It is difficult to match them, and that is what causes all the problems,” said Aviral Shrivastava, a professor at the Arizona State University School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence.
Society already relies on AI technology. From virtual assistants like Siri, Google and Alexa to applications like Netflix and YouTube that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content specifically tailored to your interests, AI is part of our everyday lives.
However, much of the AI used by businesses goes unnoticed: in banking apps, email and spam filters, auto-correction tools, personalized ads, and even thumbnails for videos watched on YouTube.
Chatbots use natural language processing to determine and interpret what the user has asked and then display the correct answer in tabular form based on the language already processed. Autonomous driving has also made progress.
AI as a career path
Students from across the Phoenix metropolitan area were selected for the boot camp, a four-week development program that taught them the fundamentals of AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and more. Mark Cuban is a billionaire entrepreneur and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and his foundation focuses on providing high school students with the opportunity to learn AI and network in the tech space.
Launched in 2019, the boot camps will reach more than 550 students in 26 U.S. regions this year and are hosted by companies using AI technology. According to the foundation’s website, the camps allow students to meet corporate employers and interact with adults who hold jobs in STEM, AI and machine learning. Students are not required to have any coding experience.
Katica Calderon’s father signed up the 14-year-old for the boot camp because of her interest in AI and how it can help others.
“All the knowledge I’ve ever gotten about AI is from my dad,” says Calderon, who hopes to work in the field one day. “He gave me an Alexa, so I started researching how it works and I got really interested in that sort of thing.”
Building networking skills and helping students understand that professions that use AI technology offer a viable career path is what makes boot camp so important, said DriveTime’s Robyn Jordan, whose title is Head of People.
“It’s kind of a new career journey, and it’s where the future is headed,” Jordan said, noting that companies should embrace the technology and education about it should start early. “I think as people start to understand what it can do, and not be afraid of it and take it over, I think you’ll see more people trying to figure out how to use it better.”
Earlier this year, the Forbes Technology Councilan organization of tech executives, has compiled a list of 15 jobs and tasks they expect to be automated within a decade — including data coordination, accounting, driving, basic customer service, sales and marketing — jobs that are all at risk.
While an algorithm can relieve one person from performing a routine task, that algorithm needed at least one person to create and shape it. The assimilation and expansion of AI technology doesn’t mean jobs will disappear, but they could be repurposed into higher-paying tech jobs.
Evans shared a story about his grandmother telling him she would never want a robot to drive her vehicle.
“But, Grandma, what if you knew that the robot was taught to drive by people like me? I am the one who works on those algorithms and teaches them what to do and what not to do.”