Next generation ready for the challenges and opportunities of AI and analytics

I recently gave a talk to a group of students from Villanova University who provided a window into the sort of graduates we’ll be employing in the next few years and their concerns and aspirations for future careers.
These students – who were studying combinations of technology, commerce, and marketing – were very inquisitive and had obviously thought deeply about the roles they’ll play in the future workforce.

Questions about AI
They were particularly interested in the rise of artificial intelligence and asked if there would still be jobs for them when they graduated. I’m confident there will be jobs, but they will be different.
As a society, we’ve had hundreds of years of technological innovation and yet we currently have low unemployment and an overall skills shortage. 100 years ago, horses and carriages rapidly gave way to the combustion engine which put most blacksmiths and horse handlers out of work but spawned an enormous global auto industry that continues to innovate today.

AI and robotics are removing a lot of the repetitive mundane tasks from daily work and allowing companies to do more with the resources they have. Companies are typically slow to fully embrace new technology however, and humans will still be needed to drive it forward and to make judgement calls.

Additionally, while there’s been a lot of talk about ChatGPT and generative AI this year, it’s still a long way from being a truly useful business tool that will replace humans. There are many issues concerning data security and privacy that limit the commercial application. As a result, the initial hype and novelty of ChatGPT is starting to wane, with active users now in decline.

Questions about data ethics
The students also wanted to know about the ethics of data, in particular for consumer marketing analytics, and how data and insights relating to individuals should be used and shared. Data privacy laws go some way to addressing this however regulations are typically very slow to keep up with the rate of technical change. This means that organisations and users of personal data need to take responsibility and it’s good to know that the next generation is already considering with these issues.

The data science and analytics students were curious about the use of data in the real world. Their university assignments typically come with clean and complete data sets with a clear path to an outcome. They were savvy enough to understand that the real world is very different with data that is often incomplete, incorrect, or inaccessible. The value of a robust data strategy was clear, which is refreshing as this is often not a priority for many organisations.

All up, the discussion left me with the confidence that the next generation of students is ready to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that data science and artificial intelligence present.