Working with technology, not against it, will get us further
The third industrial revolution saw the swift spread of digital technologies, such as telephones, televisions and personal computers, to people across the globe. At this time, novelist Thomas Pynchon asked whether it was “OK to be a Luddite?”, ‘Luddite’ meaning someone who is opposed to technological progress based on a fear of mass job disruption and loss. In response, Richard Conniff, also a novelist, noted that “a better question today is whether it’s even possible. Technology is everywhere”.
As we move into our fourth industrial revolution, characterised by the fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds via emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation, the accurate question might now be: “it’s happening, but how do we want it to happen?”
Despite being in their nascent phase, AI and other emerging technologies are already transforming our lives and work.
Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner of the University of Melbourne’s Policy Lab and lead on a new course designed to upskill women in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Automation says: “they are in your everyday. You are living within systems that include machine learning, natural language processing and algorithms crunching your big data. These futures are here.”
Despite the myriad of ways in which humanity will benefit from these technologies, there is an air of concern. Alarmist arguments have highlighted mass job loss and ongoing disruptions in the labour market. On the other hand, several studies have emphasised the potentially positive effects on labour productivity, demand, and wages, and reported that these technologies also create new jobs.
A third lens provides perhaps a more telling view, but with a potentially empowering way forward: the technological revolution will not be wholly good nor bad for humanity. In fact, people will be impacted differently based on their current economic and social position, and on the efforts we now take to bridge the emerging digital divide.
Stemming the tide of the digital divide
Women, more than men, sit on the wrong side of this digital divide. Whether due to social norms laid out in early years in which boys were gently pushed in the direction of classes like science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM), and girls in the directions of art and humanities, or because of the sheer bravery required to enter into a male-dominated industry – women now sit on the edges of this digital world, while men sit squarely at the centre.
Says Associate Professor Ruppanner, “AI is going to dominate many professions that women are leading. And, women tend to hold the interpersonal skills that are crucial for the future of work. In this course, we are introducing women to the necessary essentials to support them in building their knowledge, competence and confidence in these spaces.”
“We want women to leave these courses with a deeper understanding of what AI is, how it will impact the future of work and what types of skills will help women thrive now, and into the future. Our goal is to arm women with the knowledge they need to step in and lead in our digital world”.
If we are to experience the true benefits of this revolution, it is important to view this as a race with machines, rather than against them, and take steps to bridge the digital divide by arming all people with the skills and tools needed to complement these new technologies. But to be effective, it is a societal shift that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
If you want to bridge the gender digital divide and future-proof your world, our Future of Women at Work series which consists of the Artificial Intelligence and Women Microcredential and Artificial Intelligence Policies will arm you with a fundamental understanding of AI and other emerging technologies, providing you with the digital skills and interpersonal approaches necessary to establish gender equity in our future workplaces.