Art + Tech = The Future

Guest Correspondence

BY DR. LARRY THOMPSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JAN 26, 2019

The demand for right-brain thinking (holistic, intuitive, creative) will skyrocket as our technologies and tools become more proficient at logical left-brained thinking than we humans are. As a result, technology will replace humans more readily in the execution of those routine, logic-based, repeatable functions in the workforce. While many skills can be automated, creativity cannot.

That was the first in this reasons why Ringling College matters. Automation will displace more jobs than you might think, perhaps even those you think safe from impact, like lawyers, accountants and engineers. Don’t buy it? A few days following the publication of my last column, the Associated Press reported the American auto industry announced layoffs of thousands of workers, blue- and white-collar alike, as their jobs were replaced by automation. “The cutbacks reflect a transformation underway in both the auto industry and the broader U.S. economy, with nearly every type of business becoming oriented toward computers, software and automation… In GM’s case, the jobs that will be shed … are held largely by people who are experts in the internal combustion engine—mechanical engineers and others who spent their careers working on fuel injectors, transmissions, exhaust systems and other components that won’t be needed for the electric cars that eventually will drive themselves.”

Here we are, a major company laying off engineers, because of technological advancements in automation. The technology and tools we are building, thanks to the last century of left-brained thinking, are now more efficient than we are. And they don’t need vacations, coffee breaks or lunches. According to Artificial Intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee, within 15-25 years, 40 percent of routine, repeatable jobs will be displaced by AI, ranging from cook to driver to accountant. Soon, humans may no longer be needed at all to accomplish repeatable, logic-based tasks, grounded in left-brain thinking. We must evolve.

That brings us to the second reason why what we teach matters: Art and Tech is the future.

We are all familiar with the idea of technology as devices: computers; smartphones; smart home devices. Really, technology is any tool or resource used to accomplish the task at hand. It can range from the basic and simple—like a pencil or hammer—to the wildly complex—like the Google Tilt Brush Virtual Reality technology Ringling College students use. What is revolutionary to realize is that IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER.

Shaking your heads? Let me explain.

Technology is just a tool, regardless how shiny and impressive it may be. What is important is the human innovation, imagination, and creativity in using a tool to solve a problem, approach a challenge, or make beauty. Ringing College teaches those skills to the creative thinkers, artists and designers who are our students, who then discover new ways to utilize tools to meet existing and future needs.

The projection 40 percent of jobs may be displaced by AI in a mere 15-25 years is an understandable concern. Two things to remember: 

First, this large-scale job replacement has happened before. The advent of electricity and automobiles drastically changed the American workforce. How many buggy or manufacturers went out of business with the advent of the car? Yet, through that change, new jobs were created. We overcame and evolved to a new normal.

Second, machines only replace the repeatable, routine, logic-based functions humans perform. Technology can improve a system, but it cannot create one; it cannot invent. It cannot formulate unique and creative ways to use tools to execute a vision, whether it be a piece of art or the solution to a social problem. At Ringling College, we teach our students the concept, the vision and the desired outcome drive the tool selection—and it may not always the most advanced tool that is needed. Even though Ringling College is the most technologically advanced art college in the world, the pencil sometimes is the best tool for the job.

We teach emerging creative leaders to imagine the end product first, then select the tool needed to make it. That can’t be replaced by AI or any other technology, and is, therefore, the key to success in the coming Creative Age.

This is where the future lies: combining innate human ability to think creatively with the understanding of available technological capabilities to come up with inventive ways to meet myriad needs. We at Ringling College excel at this way of thinking, and fully understand and embrace it. We give emerging artists and designers the opportunity to work with technologies of every kind, from basic to the cutting-edge, to foster an environment where creativity can thrive. Though we fully support the advanced technologies needed for our students to find success in their academic programs and to be prepared for the industries they will enter, we have them spend their first year learning the fundamentals of being creative, imaginative and holistic. By developing this foundation, they gain the ability to truly understand the ways in which various technologies—be it pencil or computer—can be innovatively applied to bring creative visions to life.

Technology on its own is not enough. It must be combined with creativity in the ways it is applied for us to advance.

Dr. Larry R. Thompson is the president of Ringling College of Art and Design.

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