The Future of Jobs, Innovation, and Ethics in AI – Lessons from the Aerospace Industry

In by contextere

Every industry is experiencing change and uncertainty in the face of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Industry 4.0, and Aerospace is no exception. To address the inevitable challenges moving forward, contextere and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) collaborated with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) to host a digital technology roundtable focused on the future of jobs, unleashing innovation, and ethics in AI. The roundtable brought together leaders in the Aerospace industry and government including top executives from the World Economic Forum, Airbus, CAE, UTC, and MDA among others. Outlined below are some broad themes that came out of each discussion and how leaders in this industry are preparing for and suggest tackling future challenges.

Future of Jobs   

It’s become increasingly evident that there will be a significant shift in what jobs will look like over the next decade. The ‘future of work’ is less about what jobs will be eliminated by technology and more about what tasks will be shared with technology. This transition has led to many discussions on the future of jobs and how to prepare for this evolution. In response, our Aerospace leaders highlighted three areas we need to address:

  1. Cross-training: to minimize disruption, industry needs to take on the role of preparing employees for jobs that cross traditional disciplines both within their industry and across sectors. This includes harnessing life-long learning within an organization, while also identifying transferable skills across sectors to pull on a variety of expertise. This will benefit industry by increasing the pool of available, relevant talent, and benefits employees by becoming more skilled and marketable.
  2. Skills gap: Aerospace leaders also noted a disconnect between the jobs available in industry and what students are choosing to study. For example, industry might require more field service technicians, but universities are focusing on enrollment within the engineering disciplines. This is leading to misalignment between employment opportunities and the skilled worker talent pool. This is exacerbated by the fact that our community colleges are underrepresented and undervalued despite the fact they provide many of the skilled labourers who install, maintain, repair, operate and inspect aerospace assets.
  3. Labour mobility: there is a need to facilitate the mobility of talent within and between countries to fill in the gaps where certain skills are in demand. This will enable industry to access the talent they require while enabling employees to utilize their skill set. We also need to remember that people’s attachment to a community is far beyond employment. Therefore, we also need to consider how we move jobs to the people and not simply people to the jobs.
Unleashing Innovation

Unleashing innovation has been a requirement of industry for some time now. As Invest Ottawa CEO, Michael Tremblay, explains, we cannot overlook the importance of “unintended collisions” when pursuing innovation. In other words, creating an environment where innovation can flourish, and innovators can collaborate are key to this end. Keeping this in mind, here are three ways the leaders in Aerospace believe innovation can thrive:

  1. Context: to unleash the innovation and potential of digital technology within industry we need to be mindful of the context in which we operate. This will better enable us to shape the workplace of tomorrow. For example, the context in which Aerospace used to operate in Canada had three main stakeholders: government, industry, and academia. Now, we’ve added a fourth — society. The context or ecosystem in which we operate is not just a resource we should tap into, it is also an enabler.
  2. Culture: to be successful in Industry 4.0, companies should strive for more agility, mobility, empowerment, and collaboration. This culture needs to be initiated by senior leaders, empowering the rest of the organization. At the same time, innovation needs to address a specific problem, and shouldn’t be pursued for innovation’s sake.
  3. Democratization: we need to share Intellectual Property (IP) more broadly while respecting the value it has to its owner. With the right balance, this will enable other players to develop third-party applications for the original asset, operators to maintain the asset more cost-effectively, and eventually create a unique ecosystem to thrive, solve problems, and create new use cases and value.
Ethics in AI

Given its recent emergence, ethics in AI inevitably surfaced more questions than answers. For example, who owns the ethics in AI? Should companies have an AI ethicist that takes on this responsibility? Should AI be developed within an ethical framework? Though there were many questions, everyone agreed that ethics in AI needs to be a multi-stakeholder conversation, incorporating a variety of perspectives. Given Aerospace’s long history of dealing with safety, technology, regulators, the public and threats in a mission-critical environment, they are well poised to lead the conversation and help find answers to the many questions ethics in AI raises across sectors.

The future of jobs, innovation, and ethics in AI are really all about the future of humanity and the world we want our children to inherit. As the roundtable concluded, everyone also agreed that with the rise of AI, we need to embrace and grow our uniquely human skills such as curiosity, creativity, and empathy – skills we all start learning in pre-school. As a result, when looking to the future, it may be worthwhile to get back to basics.