Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
by Joseph Aoun
I had a recent recommendation from a colleague to read Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun. Dr. Aoun serves as the President of Northeastern University, an institution that has experienced a significant increase in applications and ratings within the US World and News report over the past decade. Northeastern is one of the few “co-op” universities in the US which have the advantage of “affordability” and employability after receiving your bachelor’s degree. Aoun argues that we should not be afraid of the future with technology advances. Instead, those looking to get the edge in the future will simply need constant re-education. Aoun begins the book with a brief overview of the history of American higher education and how it modeled itself after the German model, using research as the foundation for our colleges/universities. He then discusses the growth of higher education after WWII and the GI bill as well as where we are today in terms of professions available in our society. This leads into his argument about how we need to think differently for the future. He then shares data/statistics on the changing workforce based on the automation of jobs (I personally appreciate his perspectives on “imagining” and how curiosity is a key quality for those who will be most successful in the workforce, something we need to focus on teaching the youth of our country). Aoun has worked with the companies that provide the co-op experience for the students at Northeastern and asked the employers: what qualities are you looking for in your employees? What traits are most desirable? Their response? Leadership, followed by working on a team. Are we teaching these skills in colleges and universities? (This may be where student affairs can fit in!) He also notes that technical skills ranked in the middle of the pack of desired skills – I guess most employers think they can teach them or that any candidates they hire will have them. Additionally, companies like Google tend to hire “generalists” and people who have ‘deep listening skills,’ those who are interdisciplinary AND can take direction. Aoun then presents a learning model (which he call ‘humanics’) for moving forward to assist the employee of the future. Of course, he draws upon the Northeastern model of co-ops! Nothing like using your institution’s mission and practice to sell itself. Well done – brilliant in fact! The final chapters focus on discussing how experiential learning is superior to all other models of learning, using data to reinforce his points. He also focuses on the distributed model of institutions bringing their education around the world, even noting NYU in the book. Overall, this is an important read for student affairs professionals who have a place in this discussion on how we look at the experiences we provide for student leaders (OAs, RAs, student government leaders, etc.) to intentionally capture the learning they receive in our world. I highly recommend this book as means to review our work and discover how we can improve. Well done, Dr. Aoun.