Russell Steele: STEM for all |

Russell Steele: STEM for all

In November of 2018, the Little Hoover Commission found that between now and 2030 artificial intelligence technologies could have a $400 billion economic impact in California.

From 1 million to 11 million California jobs could be impacted. The report details why state government lacks the infrastructure necessary to plan strategically for — and take advantage of — AI technologies while minimizing the risks associated with smarter and smarter machines.

The commission lumps a multitude of technologies under AI, including some in use today, including Siri, Alexa and Waze for example. In addition to these smart devices, AI also includes pattern and optical recognition, machine learning, deep learning, autonomous devices, and robots both mobile and stationary.

Recent research by the global management-consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, found that the primary driver of workforce transformation would be the displacement of job activities and tasks due to automation. After reviewing 800 occupations, McKinsey estimated that at least one-third of work activities could be automated in 60 percent of occupations. A 2013 study by Oxford University predicted approximately 47 percent of U.S. employment is at risk due to AI technologies.

California will not continue as the seventh largest economy in the world if it is incapable of transitioning to an economic structure dominated by intelligent machines.

The commission’s solution for AI disruption is for employees to expand their education and participate in lifelong learning as more businesses delegate simple, boring, and repetitive tasks to artificial intelligence.

Most importantly, the commission argues, the state needs to “focus like a laser on AI in education and lifelong learning. California — from local school districts to the UC system, regional workforce development organizations and beyond — will need a tactical plan to up-skill the state’s current and future workforce.”

“AI will affect nearly every aspect of our lives. In the future, nearly every California worker will need a basic understanding of computer science and AI-related disciplines. These disciplines include engineering, mathematics, psychology, and statistics, to name just a few.”

In other words, the California workforce needs more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

In 2006, the local nonprofit think tank, Sierra Economics, and Science Foundation (SESF) recognized the need for more STEM skills in the workforce and launched TechTest, a merit scholarship program for graduating high school seniors seeking a STEM career. Each spring for the last 12 years, students have gathered in the Nevada Union High School Science Hall to match their skills against the challenging TechTest, a college-level exam.

After scoring is completed all the students who took the test, including juniors who took the test for practice, are recognized at a TechTest Survivors Breakfast. Here the top three scoring seniors are announced. Everyone waits until high school Awards Night to learn who scored the highest and receives the largest scholarship. Approximately $15,000 in scholarships is awarded each year, from donations made by local companies, service organizations, and individual board members.

In 2013 SESF launched TechTest Jr. to encourage middle school students to prepare for TechTest. Telestream and AJA Video have been enthusiastic supporters of this program to introduce students to career opportunities in technology.

Also, SESF has supported seniors who have proposed unique senior projects; which required a bit more funding. The foundation mentored students doing engineering and robotic projects. Board members have also served as senior project evaluators.

While SESF has focused on local needs for STEM education over the last 12 years, the Hoover Commission report has defined a much larger problem to be solved over the next 11 years, upskilling the California workforce with science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Upskilling is going to be a considerable challenge for an education system more focused on social justice, diversity and protecting delicate egos in safe spaces. California will not continue as the seventh largest economy in the world if it is incapable of transitioning to an economic structure dominated by intelligent machines.

More than a state problem, it is a problem for every business in Nevada County as competitors use smart machines. Every company should have an upskilling plan. A plethora of free and low-cost online courses can be used to launch an in-house upskilling program. Sierra College also offers courses in digital skills.

Waiting for AI is not an option. Upskill now!

Russell Steele lives in Lincoln.

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