Human skills like creativity, charisma and empathy are Australia’s top exports in an AI world
But while the promise of an English education is an attraction, the chance to gain better social skills and learn teamwork through our focus on sports is also a winner.
As business leader and Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney, Catherine Livingstone, said last month, our tertiary education sector should not be criticized for its reliance on international students, but celebrated as a key export industry.
But we sell more than one degree in English, albeit with different qualities; We sell many of the skills that will improve a world dominated by artificial intelligence.
The ability to tell a joke, maintain a sense of the game, deliver charismatic presentations, think quickly, or have a superior ability to empathize are not easily replaced by AI’s mastery of pattern recognition.
These skills are becoming increasingly valuable for much of Asia, where education systems favor memorization and conformity. The sheer pressure, competitiveness and workload in much of Asia hinders a playful perspective spiced with conviviality.
Korean teenagers have the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world as of 2007. With its dystopian youthful despair, the Netflix hit Squid Game is an ode to this oppressive environment.
In China, there is a term “Gaofen Dineng” that refers to high scores but low skills. Students spend almost all their free time studying. They have little opportunity to develop social and physical skills, let alone take initiative or display unstructured curiosity.
While some educators admire places like Singapore for its high test scores, prominent Chinese educator Jiang Xueqin cautions against idealizing such Confucian-influenced systems.
The new behavior can be to encourage creativity, be entertaining, or develop unconventional worldviews… all of the things that make us most human.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal a decade ago, Xueqin said, “The flaws of a system of memorization are well known: lack of social and practical skills, lack of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning… One thing we know it does to us.” succeeding in transforming China’s schools is when those results are achieved [on standardised tests] come down.”
Even our associations with rugged masculinity are novel to many literal Asians.
It was Michael Douglas who, when asked by the Independent about the success of the Hemsworth brothers in Hollywood, said: “With the Aussies, especially with men, it’s masculinity. In the US we have this relatively asexual or unisex realm of sensitive young men. It’s a phenomenon.”
A gym owner operating in Sydney’s western suburbs once told me he had noticed that his international student clientele were having a renewed relationship with their bodies and regaining a new sense of masculinity amidst Australia’s more sexualised atmosphere.
A charismatic or commanding physical presence can also be more valuable in personal interactions. AI can never compete with great pecs and rock hard biceps.
The preeminent conflict of our time will be who can spearhead the use of artificial intelligence in security and business.
Australia can and should aim to go above and beyond in this regard, a realistic goal, Square Peg’s Paul Bassat said in an op-ed to the newspaper earlier this year.
But there could also be an opportunity for Australia to take a leadership role in the by-products of the rise of artificial intelligence, a sort of graduation school for many aspiring Asians.
Rather than being schooled in the social etiquette and cultural rites of yesteryear’s upper class, the new behavior may be to encourage creativity, be entertaining, or develop outlandish worldviews.
In short, all the things that make us most human.
Come to Australia to develop such skills while improving your English.
Continuing Paul Hogan’s throw of more shrimp in the Barbie campaign, this could be our next ad to be channeled across Asia.