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STEMM Festival

STEMM Festival

8 May 2017

Welcome back to the humanities - Professor says STEMM skills mean little without communication, collaboration skills.

Human to machine and machine to human communication using natural spoken language and facial and body language has highlighted a renewed interest in the field of communication studies around the world, says Gary Mersham, a Professor of Communication based at the Open Polytechnic.

Image recognition, speech recognition, and machine translation now allow machines to truly understand how humans communicate and respond in kind. Numerous speaking and learning bots now populate our digital devices.
The focus on startups, accelerators and entrepreneurship too has demonstrated how important communication skills are at every stage – from team forming, conceptual sharing, maintaining team morale and minimal viable product development, through to the final investor pitch and subsequent marketing.

The tendency to rate vocational, STEMM skills over soft skills is now being re-assessed. The Institute of IT professionals in NZ, for example, runs courses specifically aimed at improving communication among IT professionals. Francis Valentine, founder of the highly successful Mindlab concept and leading advocate for a new form of digital skills education, is proposing trialling a public school model with a curriculum that includes visual communication, philosophy, economics and English language studies along with the core STEMM subjects.

Avatars such as Nadia, designed by Auckland University’s Prof Mark Sagar, doesn't just respond to what you say verbally, but also interprets what your face is saying. It combines IBM Watson's artificial intelligence technology with FaceMe, a video communication system, so that Nadia can speak, write and answer questions online with people who may struggle to fill out electronic forms or read text online. It is being trialled successfully in Australia by people with disabilities to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme, filling in forms by voice commands.

At a recent Leadership New Zealand presentation Prof Mersham said that the impact of new technologies such as AI, IOT, Blockchain and robotics will demand a new kind of moral and ethical leadership that most CEO’s are ill-prepared for. Social sciences and humanities with their ethical focus will be more and more important in the education system as the world looks towards solving its big problems of polluted environments, climate change, social displacement, poverty and dysfunctional politics through technology.

The need to change educational models to meet these challenges is urgent. According to Gary, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt recently said that soon “All business will be in the education business” as increasingly workers are re-skilled for jobs in the modern economy by their organisations.

Gary will be focussing on the new world of jobs and the impact on manufacturing of key technologies such as the Blockchain, augmented reality and 3D printing fields at an open session at the HUTT Valley STEMM Festival on Saturday 13th at the Dowse. He will be joined by experts in these areas who will offer hands on, live technology demonstrations.

ends

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