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People want to keep up in the artificial intelligence age. Employers, educators, and governments are letting them down.

Fewer than 10 percent respondents in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom said their undergraduate education will provide the skills they will need when artificial intelligence displaces millions of people from their jobs. Graphic by iStock.

Majorities of people in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom think that artificial intelligence will improve their lives, but they believe that higher education, government, and employers are not doing enough to improve their skills.

Fears that the new era of automation will leave educated workers behind are crystallized by a first-of-its-kind survey conducted by Northeastern University and Gallup.

Fewer than 10 percent in each country said their undergraduate education will provide the skills they will need when artificial intelligence displaces millions of people from their jobs.

The global survey of more than 10,000 respondents is the first poll to reveal an international cross-section of opinions about artificial intelligence as economies around the world undergo the transformative move to automation. It follows earlier Northeastern-Gallup polls that focused on American views of artificial intelligence.

“As we prepare for the age of artificial intelligence, people around the world understand that learning will need to become a lifelong endeavor,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “This presents enormous opportunities for the higher education sector if we make the right decisions and investments. This can be the golden age of higher education.”

A majority of the public in all three countries believes large businesses and government are not “doing enough to address the need for career-long learning and training.” Majorities in the U.S. and U.K. also believe that higher education is failing to provide lifelong learning opportunities. Only a narrow majority of Canadians disagrees.

Northeastern Gallup Survey Data Visualization

Data Visualizations by Tyler Machado and Derrick Henry

Respondents in all three countries cite cost as a major barrier they “face when seeking education or training over the course of your career.”

“It is time to think about ‘college access’ in a completely new way,” added Aoun, “not as a one-time ticket to an undergraduate classroom, but as a lifelong passport to reinvention.”

Asked who should be responsible for making lifelong learning more affordable in order to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence, U.S. respondents overwhelmingly prefer that employers take on the burden. In Canada and the U.K., those polled expressed a preference that governments help pay.

 The poll revealed several differences of opinion among the three countries

In the U.K. and Canada, majorities believe their current skills and education are already outdated or on the verge of becoming redundant. But only 35 percent of Americans admitted to similar fears, with 42 percent expressing confidence that their job skills will never become obsolete.

 Additional differing points of view: 

  •       Who should bear the responsibility for making lifelong learning more affordable in the artificial intelligence era? Seventy-three percent of Americans want employers to take on that responsibility, while Canadians (64 percent) and U.K. residents (62 percent) believe it should fall on government.
  •       When asked about the best skills to withstand artificial intelligence, six in 10 respondents in Canada and the U.K. believe teamwork, communication, creativity, and critical thinking are most important in the new era of automation; whereas Americans are split 50-50 between those “soft” skills and technical skills like math, science, coding, and working with data.
  •       Three-quarters of Canadians and U.K. residents support a universal basic income program to help people who lose their jobs to automation. But 57 percent of Americans oppose the program.

 Among the findings were areas of consensus as well

  •       Despite concerns that they are not prepared for the new era and the job losses that will result from automation, majorities in all three countries believe that advancements in machine learning will do more good than harm overall. When asked to assess the impact that artificial intelligence “will have on how people work and live in the next 10 years,” large majorities said the consequences will be “very” or “mostly” positive (72 percent in Canada, 70 percent in U.K., 67 percent in U.S.).
  •       The Northeastern-Gallup poll also reveals a lack of confidence among respondents in the three countries that they will receive the education they need to be prepared for changes to the workforce. Among college graduates, fewer than 10 percent (five percent in the U.S., six percent in U.K., eight percent in Canada) believes their undergraduate education prepared them for using artificial intelligence at work. Among all respondents, only three percent in the United States, 10 percent in the U.K., and 12 percent in Canada “strongly agree” that universities in their countries are preparing graduates for success in the current workforce.
  •       On the question of whether institutions are addressing the need for lifelong learning, there was agreement that large businesses (71 percent in the U.S., 62 percent in Canada, and 59 percent in the U.K.) as well as government (78 percent in the U.S., 71 percent in the U.K., and  65 percent in Canada) are not responding adequately. Higher education also received failing marks in the U.S. (75 percent) and U.K. (55 percent).
  •       Asked to compare the importance of lifelong learning versus a one-time advanced degree or certificate, overwhelming majorities preferred education over the course of their careers (95 percent U.S., 94 percent U.K., 92 percent Canada).
  •       Seven in ten Americans, six in ten Canadians, and six in ten U.K. residents believe the advent of artificial intelligence will eliminate more jobs than it creates. But that is not their only concern economically: Majorities in all three countries view the outsourcing of jobs to other countries as a greater threat than the loss of jobs that will result from artificial intelligence.

 Other key findings include: 

  •       If their skills become outdated, then strong majorities in all three countries would prefer to be educated by an employer rather than by a university. The sentiments were echoed by human resources officers who participated in the qualitative portion of the survey.
  •       A majority of Canadians continue to believe in the value of a college degree, but their optimism isn’t shared in the other countries. Forty-one percent of U.K. respondents expect a college degree to diminish in importance over the next decade, and 36 percent of Americans agree with them.
  •       Majorities in each country favor the development of employer and government-matched lifelong learning accounts.
  •       When using products or services that employ artificial intelligence, majorities in all three countries said they worry “often” that their personal information is at risk.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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