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Artificial intelligence in my studies: How do I actually want to live and work? And how can AI support me in this?

Photo: elenabs / iStockphoto / Getty Images

»AI will take away all our jobs in the future!« Since ChatGPT became so popular, this fear has been heard more and more often. At the same time, many students actively use this AI application as a tool, making their work easier. Emails and seminar papers are written with the help of ChatGPT. Technology students have a head start. They deal with the use of AI at an early stage and are usually less afraid that their studies will become superfluous. But can students of psychology, business administration or journalism also be unconcerned? Yes. To do this, however, we need to rethink – and actively engage with AI. Fortunately, nowhere does this work as well as in your studies.

I realized how much the topic of AI also unsettles young people after an appearance on a television show in May 2023. There, as an expert and book author, I was asked by the moderator which jobs are affected by the further development of AI, and I replied: It can be assumed that it will also affect traditional, recognized professions, such as my original profession, the lawyer.

Uncertainties regarding AI

After the interview, a student wrote to me that he was about to graduate in law and was now unsettled. He would have assumed that activities requiring creativity and critical thinking would not be affected by technological developments. At first, I was surprised that I had unsettled a young student, i.e. a "digital native", with my statement. But in the end, this gave rise to the idea for the new project of my Future Lab: to get to the bottom of the question of what AI development means for young people in work and training – and how it can become a useful tool for everyone.

I founded my Future Lab in Vienna in 2017 to explore social change from a young, female perspective, with a focus on the future of work and well-being at work. With the aim of making perspectives and solution ideas of young people visible, I invite students, pupils, trainees and managers to the Future Lab to develop new ideas and visions of the future together: How do we want to live and work?

At the beginning of the project, I analysed one of the largest current youth surveys in Austria, the Ö3 Youth Study with more than 40,000 participants between the ages of 16 and 25. AI was also a topic there. Around half of those surveyed were optimistic and assumed that AI would relieve them of their work, i.e. that it would be a support for them. The other half, however, worried that AI could make them superfluous. The results showed that the less qualified the respondents, the more they assumed that AI would replace them. On the other hand, the formally highly qualified, including the students, were optimistic.

How students look at AI

As part of the project, I also spoke to students myself. It was not surprising that technology students have a very positive attitude towards AI. They basically understand how the technology works and how they can use it for their own advancement, especially to complete communication tasks faster. One of the students I talk to is Liam. He is studying electrical engineering and is sure that his training will offer him good professional and career opportunities. AI cannot replace the complex technical know-how that he has been taught over many years of study, nor can he replace problem-solving, critical thinking.

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Lena, an industrial design student, on the other hand, takes a more nuanced view of AI. She sees this as a useful tool, but one that should be critically questioned, because "AI has neither an agenda nor emotions." She does what she is told, has no ethics, according to the student. AI is also increasingly being used as a tool in creative professional fields. Does that scare her? Not really, she says, she herself is already using AI. In the next semester, there will also be an AI focus in her degree program.

Both students are united by the fact that they are already using and reflecting on AI. Both have access to knowledge about AI through their courses of study and find spaces there to experiment with AI, to discuss it and to further develop and use their skills.

Universities and students have a responsibility

In other courses, however, this is not yet so much the case. It depends a lot on which university or faculty you are at and what you are studying, whether AI already occurs during your studies. Teaching, medicine, geography, law, psychology and economics, journalism and history are also affected by the rapid development of AI. The responsible institutions, politicians and universities must therefore react urgently and develop a holistic and forward-looking strategy with experts, lecturers and students to provide the technological infrastructure and anchor AI in curricula. Student representatives should actively demand the implementation of this strategy.

At the same time, everyone has the opportunity to gain a personal knowledge advantage during their studies: by actively using AI in courses or critically questioning it in seminar papers and discussions.

Hardly anywhere else do you have the chance to bring together the potential of artificial intelligence and your own intelligence as well as at university. In addition to the pure transfer of knowledge, the course offers above all the space and time to ask questions, learn, experiment, and thus grow personally. Here, students learn future-relevant skills such as independent work, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and teamwork. During the course of study, new problems are found, researched and discussed cooperatively with others. This is how new knowledge is created in universities. This requires curiosity, empathy and courage – and that is what fundamentally distinguishes us from AI.

Don't be afraid of artificial intelligence

If you see your studies as a space for experimentation and learning, you don't have to be afraid. In the future, completely new job profiles will emerge, the existing professions will most likely also look different. For the future of work, exactly those skills are needed that we can learn and train in our studies. AI is increasingly becoming a tool and a constant companion, a co-pilot. It is important that we learn to understand who is developing this technology, and for what purpose, and how it works. This is the only way for AI to become more than a new business model, but to contribute to solving global and personal problems, from medicine to care and climate protection.

Therefore, students do not have to worry about not finding a job because of artificial competition on the job market. The change is taking place step by step and will gradually change our lives and the job market. The new technology offers a great opportunity. However, it is important to stay on the ball and reflect: How can I use AI?

The course prepares you for the jobs of the future if you deal critically and playfully with AI. This applies to the medical student as well as to the journalism student. If you want to have a head start, you have to start today to deal not only with AI, but also with your own wishes and needs. The key question is: How do I actually want to live and work? And how can AI support me in this?