Why robotics and artificial intelligence will be bigger than the discovery of the New World | Column

SEP 12, 2021

Having spent more than 25 years working with industry partners to educate and prepare the future workforce, it is not surprising to see that Florida has experienced growth in the technology sector.

Jeffrey D. Senese, president of Saint Leo University

Across the nation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Additionally, demand for skilled professionals in robotics and artificial intelligence is growing. The World Economic Forum estimates that while 85 million jobs will be displaced, 97 million new jobs will be created across 26 countries by 2025 due to the growth of artificial intelligence technology.

From my conversations with industry leaders to the research and data I’ve studied, all signs lead me to believe that robotics and artificial intelligence will be a significant economic driver, surpassing the impact of Christopher Columbus’ exploration of the New World in 1492.

While Columbus used sophisticated technology that was highly advanced for his time, he was still required to convince Queen Isabella that his trip and tools had value. His technology included the compass, maps, and charts that helped him navigate what many considered a nearly unthinkable journey.

Today, few in our modern world need to be convinced that computing and other advanced technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence, have value.

While certainly some people fear technology will impact us negatively with the loss of jobs or human touch, others see technologies like robotic surgery or manufacturing as protections that can help heal people faster or make work more effective. Today, robots are largely sophisticated tools that are as amazing and mindboggling as the compass and quadrant were in Columbus’ time.

While Columbus’ trip changed the world, it took hundreds of years for its impact to be understood and capitalized upon. Robotics, as a field of practice and study, rapidly will change the future for graduates, and all of us, with new technologies being employed each year.

The idea of a robot may bring to mind images of Commander Data from Star Trek, or more frighteningly, the robots featured in The Terminator, but the field of robotics is much broader than those perceptions.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, there are many types of robots — from those in aerospace, to consumer products, disaster response, drones, autonomous vehicles, and exoskeletons, to industrial robots, and medical robots, among others. In 2019, an article in Oxford Economics revealed that the number of robots in use worldwide multiplied three-fold over the past two decades, to 2.25 million. In many cases, robots are simply machines that are programmed to perform tasks or take actions. They are able to do things in anticipation of needs, based on artificial intelligence coding.

A final point to consider is the impact on the economy. After Columbus’ journey, trade between nations became prevalent and a new economic system was born. Likewise, demand for robotics and artificial intelligence technology will grow and create new efficiencies. PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study predicts that by 2030, growth of artificial intelligence will lead to an estimated $15.7 trillion, or 26 percent increase, in global gross domestic product.

Demand for robotics engineers and technicians also will grow, given the need for designing and maintaining robots. There also will be strong demand for application developers for robotic systems and solutions. So, while some fear that robots and artificial intelligence will take away jobs from humans, they will create many more jobs and careers.

With what I now know today, if I could go back and change my college major, I would select robotics. There are many opportunities in this growing field. It is multidisciplinary, creative, impactful, and would allow me to innovate. It is and will be the next big discovery in our world.

Jeffrey D. Senese, PhD, is the president of Saint Leo University, a private, nonprofit Catholic university based in Pasco County, FL. Saint Leo is the largest Benedictine Catholic university in the world, educating more than 18,000 students each year. This fall, the university is launching a bachelor’s degree in robotics and artificial intelligence and opening a new college dedicated to the growing field.