The Arts And Humanities Deliver Untapped Value For The Future Of Work, says article in Forbes

Forbes has just released an article, by Benjamin Wolff.

Over the past two decades, colleges and universities have massively increased their investment in business and STEM programs while, at the same time, pulling resources from the arts and humanities.

It’s an approach that has found support from across the political spectrum. In his first State of the Commonwealth address in 2016, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin decried spending public education money on students in the liberal arts, and announced a new state funding formula.

“There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will,” said Bevin. “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.”

Two years earlier, on a visit to Wisconsin to promote his job-training initiatives, President Barack Obama said, “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

While Obama later tempered his remarks, it’s clear that anxiety over skyrocketing tuition and student debt is contributing to a focus on jobs with high starting salaries. And in this pandemic year, with technology booming while arts and education suffer, those concerns are likely to become even more pronounced.

But this orientation is misdirecting those entering the workforce away from what industry is looking for. With the rise of artificial intelligence, machine programming, and the ever more rapid automation of technical skills, many companies are seeking just the creative and humanist thinking that emerges from a study of the liberal arts.

Engineering needs the humanities

Catie Cuan, a professional dancer and Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, believes that a training in the arts brings with it valuable and important insights.

“As we have robots in more public-facing spaces—offices, hospitals, airports, doctor’s offices—that design space needs to be very deliberate,” said Cuan. “There’s a lot of research that shows the primary attribute of an object that humans react to is how it moves. It’s not color. It’s not what an object sounds like. And you only get a few chances until people are completely alienated by the new thing. So I think either all professional roboticists need to be taking classes in dance and movement generation, or a lot of tech companies are going to be hiring dancers and choreographers to come up with the movement personalities of these robots.”

Cuan, who danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City while working as a vice president at a web design and creative agency, was looking for ways to combine her artistic and technology interests. Then, in 2018, she had an opportunity to dance with an ABB IRB 6700 industrial robot through a residency at ThoughtWorks Arts. “That experience of getting to program, or choreograph, a robot and then interact and dance with it was so addictive. I said to myself, ‘How do I do this full time—like, for the rest of my life?’”

This article was originally and fully published on April 6th, in the Forbes website.

sky reflecting in glass
Credit: Marcel Strauss