Can AI tutors give the nation’s workforce a competitive edge?
The number of workers needing new skills across a variety of emerging technology fields will soon outpace the nation’s ability to train them, but researchers at the Defense Department have a plan.
Today’s workers will need more advanced skills in the not-too-distant future—and will need to regularly acquire new technical expertise to compete in the market and ensure the nation's security and competitiveness. However, the number of workers needing new skills across a variety of emerging technology fields will soon outpace the ability to train them.
Experts at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are looking for ways technology can help adults get up to speed on the complex technologies that will be critical to the 21st century economy and government, such as artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, geospatial analysis, wireless networking and cybersecurity.
DARPA’s three-phase AI Tools for Adult Learning program will award a total of $750,000 to innovators who can develop tools that can speed up the acquisition of knowledge for adult learners and allow customized education and training to accelerate learning, increase engagement and limit drop outs.
This program is critical for two main reasons, Joshua Elliott, AI Tools for Adult Learning program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, said in a webcast explaining the program. First, there’s concern that the U.S. will not have the number of skilled workers it needs to stay secure and competitive. Second, there’s a risk that technology will advance so fast that even if there were enough willing workers, they could not be upskilled fast enough.
Intelligent tutoring could be the answer, and AI engineering is a good example of a field that could help deliver not just smart training solutions, but also the know-how, tools and metrics that will enable an adaptable, future workforce.
“AI is where cyber was about 10 to 15 years ago,” Elliott said, speaking of the nation’s recognition that it needed vastly greater numbers of cyber-proficient workers who could “create, manage, tune and maintain projects.”
While the pandemic showed the possibilities for remote, self-paced and more equitable learning, there’s plenty of evidence demonstrating that tutoring helps learners more quickly and effectively master new skills, DARPA officials said. Computer-based tutoring systems could personalize learning to deliver the best outcomes, “drastically reduce the cost of high-quality tutoring, and therefore increase access for all learners,” Elliott said.
Additionally, training more AI engineers would contribute to a workforce with a broad range of skills, including data science, advanced mathematics and human-centered design. Preparing for the future is about problem solving and critical thinking, Elliott said. “It’s not just about trying to teach people programming.”
For complete information about AI Tools for Adult Learning, including how to submit an abstract, eligibility requirements, registration access is available at toolscompetition.org/DARPA.