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Robot-Proof

Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Joseph E. Aoun
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun

Driverless cars are hitting the road, powered by artificial intelligence. Robots can climb stairs, open doors, win Jeopardy, analyze stocks, work in factories, find parking spaces, advise oncologists. In the past, automation was considered a threat to low-skilled labor. Now, many high-skilled functions, including interpreting medical images, doing legal research, and analyzing data, are within the skill sets of machines.

How can higher education prepare students for their professional lives when professions themselves are disappearing? In Robot-Proof, Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun proposes a way to educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—to fill needs in society that even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence agent cannot.

... the dawn of the robot age will be an opportunity, not a threat.

- Joseph E. Aoun

A “robot-proof” education, Aoun argues, is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it calibrates them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or create something valuable to society—a scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a web comic, a cure for cancer. Aoun lays out the framework for a new discipline, humanics, which builds on our innate strengths and prepares students to compete in a labor market in which smart machines work alongside human professionals.

The only certainty about the future is change. Higher education based on the new literacies of humanics can equip students for living and working through change.

Joseph E. Aoun, a leader in higher education policy and an internationally renowned scholar in linguistics, is the seventh President of Northeastern University. A respected voice on global and experiential education, President Aoun came to Northeastern from the University of Southern California’s College of Letters, Arts & Sciences where he was the inaugural holder of the Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair. He received his Ph.D. in linguistics and philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and advanced degrees from the University of Paris (France) VIII and Saint Joseph University (Beirut, Lebanon). He was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the French government. Aoun is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and a past Chair of the American Council on Education (ACE). He is the recipient of the Academic Leadership Award granted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

It’s time to end to the fiction that four years of college, plus a smattering of graduate studies, is enough to last a lifetime.
...it is now the obligation of educators to ensure that our learners become “robot-proof”.
Because for all of their dazzling power, machines are incapable of plucking inspiration from the subconscious...
... it’s time to stop thinking of higher education as an experience that people take part in once during their young lives — or even several times as they advance up the professional ladder...
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun

This book is an authoritative call for action and a compelling model for the next step in the evolution of higher education. President Aoun offers an optimistic—and more important, realistic—vision of how we can educate ourselves for an AI economy.

- Jeffrey S. Bornstein, Vice Chairman & Chief Financial Officer, GE

Dr. Aoun is a leader in framing new educational models to enable student readiness for careers in our evolving economy. Our future as a nation depends on getting this right.

- Wes Bush, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Northrop Grumman Corporation

In this original, timely, and provocative study, President Aoun challenges higher education to think differently about and prepare for the age of artificial intelligence. He appeals to universities to foster a generation of lifelong learners who can master robotics, not be mastered by it—a generation that will be prepared to meet the demands of a new economy and the revolutionized nature of the workplace.

- Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Joseph Aoun’s book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology-infused world and higher education’s place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly bene t from this cogent, persuasively written work.

- Janet Napolitano, President, University of California, and former Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Available now from MIT Press
the cover Robot Proof by Joseph E. Aoun.  A robot holds a butterfly
Robot-Proof