Engineers who work on AI may actually be building a future in which Arts graduates will be indispensable

Engineers and artists – working together to save us from a life of flipping burgers. Picture: Getty Images

  • Leading AI consultant says AI will make our working lives better.
  • Companies need creative employees to enhance technological advances.
  • AI will create unprecedented demand for creative thinkers.

The war between engineering and arts hit yet another flash point last week when a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand presented this slide to engineering students:

Despite the best efforts from various government (and Arts) departments to make the two play nice by inserting an A into STEM funding discussions, there’s unlikely to ever be a ceasefire.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, given proponents of the two use completely different parts of their brains. It’s the tech world extension of the timeless struggle between builders and architects.

One builds, one creates. And both can be exceptional or awful at their job in equal measures.

But you’d be forgiven for thinking that engineers — Silicon Valley’s self-styled rock stars — are worth more, just because they’re getting paid more.

They’re getting paid more, because there’s been a shortage of engineers in Silicon Valley, stretching back almost into decades now.

But demand for engineers actually lags far behind demand for creativity, according to business technology specialist Eric Berridge.

Berridge is the co-founder of Bluewolf, a company that helps businesses adopt and get value from transformation technologies. Transformation technologies like artificial intelligence.

Berridge started getting properly intimate with AI when Bluewolf was acquired by IBM and he got to work with Watson, the AI that famously won Jeopardy.

Watson is a truly amazing piece of kit that arguably owes its entire existence to engineers. And many would say it’s the ultimate example right now of how AI will take all our jobs.

Barely a day goes by where a story isn’t published about robots learning how to flip burgers or guard flocks of sheep.

“That’s where the fear is,” Berridge, who’s in Australia this week presenting at the 2018 Salesforce World Tour in Sydney, says.

“(But) fearmongering about all the jobs going away isn’t correct. The reality is all the jobs are going to change, and they’re going to get better.

“You’re going to see organisations shift dramatically in the next 10 years. We will no longer be administrators.

“You walk down the halls of the big companies and still see people processing invoices and banging away at computers… 10-20 years from now, we’re going to be shifting our mindset, we’re actually going to be creating our future.

“Okay, so now, do we have to think about how we invest in our educational system to account for that future? Absolutely.”

Eric Berridge, cofounder of Bluewolf, in Sydney this week. Picture: Supplied

At this point, most readers might be thinking, “invest in engineering, right?”

Here’s the irony — Berridge believes AI is a technology that will create unprecedented demand for creative thinkers.

Because once all the dull administration tasks have been fully automated — and optimised — humans are going to have a lot more time to think about what kind of a world they really want to create.

“If you look at people we hire at Bluewolf, we have thousands of practitioners globally. Very few of them have degrees in pure science. We’re hiring artists, we’re hiring musicians we’re hiring a whole different class of degrees than a tech company would typically hire.”

That’s because, Berridge says, Bluewolf’s point-and-click platform is creating those new jobs, because its engineers keep making it easier to use.

“STEM is very important for society, but you go on LinkedIn today and look at jobs that are currently posted for organisations like Google, Apple, Amazon, you’d think that 80% of all their hires require degrees in engineering and computer science,” he says. “It’s actually the opposite.

“We’re a big believer in the creative process when it comes to how organisations evolve. We’re big believers in how people communicate and how the human experience feeds the outcome of that other initiative.

“Technology is the enabler for that, it’s not the leader in it.”