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NY Times: What to Take in College toStay Ahead of Computers

  1. May 25, 2015 #1

    I thought this article today posed some interesting questions. Is it possible to learn a certain curriculum in college that would allow people to "stay ahead" of computers, so that they don't have to worry about their jobs some day being replaced by a robot?

    That's actually an occasional fear of mine, as I'm trying to decide on a college major (actually majors!, since I know I'd like to double...if not triple). I've wondered, for example, is accounting something that can be automated some day and make my job obsolete if I went in that direction? And how much should we be focusing on this issue, as opposed to "pursuing our passion" in life and education? It's kind of like needing to balance the practical with the ideal.

    This may or may not be true, but I always had this idea that having a "classical" education, which includes stuff like literature, mathematics, a natural science, etc., is still a great asset to have even if it is not a trade or directly applicable to some job. I feel like I've learned to be extremely analytical in my literature and philosophy classes, for example, which I think could be a skill carried over into some other endeavor. Maybe it's a bit of idealistic and romantic thinking, but I personally enjoy the general education requirements we have to go through and can see how the skills developed in those subjects can be transferable to other areas of life or industry.

    Sorry if I'm rambling! Just thought it was an interesting article and maybe people wanted to discuss the topic.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2015 #2


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    Computers and robots are replacing many jobs, but these are currently mostly the types of jobs that require repetition according to a strictly defined set of parameters. They don't really think creatively or solve problems yet; at least not to any great degree of competence or independence. Jobs like accounting could potentially be replaced by computers and on a smaller scale I'm sure some accounting jobs already have been replaced by computers. However, I don't think anyone should take this to mean that accountants will be replaced by computers in the near future. We're a very long way away from automating the majority of jobs. Jobs like scientific research require a type of creativity that machines simply do not possess. Could they someday? Possibly. I rather doubt it though.

    There are very mixed views on the topic of general education. Personally I agree with you. My experience so far as a college student certainly would not have been as intellectually fulfilling without my GenEd courses. Sociology and anthropology have become huge interests of mine since taking courses in those subjects. Philosophy has really taught me how to think about problems from multiple perspectives. My art history and western civilization classes have taught me a lot about culture and what exactly it means to 'be human.' I think these things are essential to being a well educated person, even if they aren't directly relevant to ones field of study.

    This is how I always put it: An art history course might not be relevant to a business major. However, this business major might someday be discussing the possibility of a business deal over lunch. The conversation might wander away from the business directly at hand into the areas of personal interests. If this client has an interest in art history and the topic wanders in that direction somehow, you will be able to converse at least somewhat competently on the field. This shared interest could very well be the thing that sticks out in their mind and causes you to get the job. Clearly this is a rather specific analogy, but I think a liberal arts education in general prepares one for these types of situations and causes them to be much better versed on culture and society as a global construct.
  4. May 26, 2015 #3
    I agree on the value of a classic liberal arts education. Also, I don't see anything wrong with just learning those subjects for the sake of their inherent "beauty."

    And I think being well-rounded makes a person potentially more adaptable to various changes in life and society, and it also possibly makes one more creative (or, at least, allows for a greater potential for it) in certain ways. Fusion of various sorts - be it in the food industry, fashion, music, technology, etc. - requires that a person have some understanding of multiple "styles" or categories of things. I can see how having an interest or passion in multiple things may give one a creative advantage in making some fusion breakthrough of some sort that another person who never encountered those things wouldn't have thought of.
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