Learning is a lifelong task in the age of artificial intelligence, President Aoun tells graduates

President Joseph E. Aoun delivers his address to graduates at Commencement on Friday. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It’s an exciting time for the Class of 2018. In the past year, the world has witnessed historic breakthroughs in machine learning, gene editing, and space exploration. But, as Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun told graduates Friday at Commencement, “The world doesn’t stop changing, and we must continue to discover and learn.”

“Learning,” he said, “is a lifelong journey.”

Aoun said the more than 4,000 Northeastern graduates are poised for success in the future, having overcome rigorous academic challenges and thrived under pressure at leading organizations throughout the world.

The world doesn’t stop changing, and we must continue to discover and learn. Learning is a lifelong journey.

Joseph E. Aoun, President of Northeastern

To thrive in the age of artificial intelligence, Aoun urged graduates to use their inherently human traits to shape the future. “With the rise of machine intelligence, human intelligence is our most precious asset,” he said, “and it’s our humanity that sparks the creativity to invent new ideas and launch new ventures.”

In his new book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Aoun argues that mastering three new literacies—technological literacy, data literacy, and human literacy—will enable students to fill societal needs that even the most sophisticated robots cannot.

“Yours is the first generation to work and live alongside intelligent machines,” Aoun told the graduates. “At countless tasks, machines are learning to outperform human beings. So we must learn, too, or we become obsolete.”

An accomplished, global Class of 2018

Early in his address, Aoun called on graduates to wave the flags of more than 150 nations that they carried to Commencement and selected to signify their own personal experiences and stories.

Aoun also highlighted three graduating seniors and their global feats: Nader Yacaman Juha, who launched a company, IC Health, that delivers affordable glucose monitoring devices to Honduras; Jessica Uhlig, who worked on co-op in Kenya and helped a social enterprise boost production by improving its factory layout; and Tavish Fenbert, who devised his own co-op in India, designing food processing technology for use in rural areas.

He concluded his address by saying that inequality, injustice, and intolerance cast long shadows, but the human spirit is luminous and can be drawn upon to create grace, justice, and beauty.

“You are torchbearers in an age that longs for light,” he said. “I look forward to learning with and from you, in the years to come. You will keep me current with the changing world. Now lead that change, and make the world yours.”

A charge to graduates

After the graduates had processed to the stage and received their diplomas, Aoun concluded the ceremony by issuing them his charge. He urged them to cultivate their human strengths throughout their lives, remembering that our human qualities are our most precious resource.

“Continue your discoveries — never see boundaries, only new horizons,” he said,” and remember that wherever you are, wherever you go, Northeastern will be there with you and for you.”

Then, Aoun and Commencement speaker Aimée Mullins — actor, Paralympian, trailblazing athlete — punched beach balls into the crowd of graduates.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University