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STEMM should be backed by understanding of communication

09 May 2017

Advances in technology need to be met by a new kind of moral and ethical leadership says Open Polytechnic professor of communication, Gary Mersham.

He says communication studies could fill the gaps STEMM may be leaving.

With human to machine, and machine to human communication moving towards natural spoken language, as well as facial and body language there is a renewed interest in communication studies says Mersham.

“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.”

With revolutionary new technologies, such as University of Auckland professor Mark Sagar's Avatar Nadia, being able to understand body language as well as verbal, there is a need to learn how humans communicate first.

Mersham says in the past there has been a tendency to rate STEMM skills over soft skills. He says this is now being re-assessed, with key players in the industry upping their communication offerings.

“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.”

This movement in the tech and education industries shows there is a need to be able to understand and analyse how we communicate as well as being able to interact digitally.

Mersham says he is concerned that this need may go unnoticed by some in the industry, and as there are pressing issues that can be solved by technology, there’s no time to waste.

“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 urgency of these changes has been noticed by some, says Mersham.

“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.”

Mersham will be speaking to these needs in the industry, and be joined by a panel of experts in the area to offer demonstrations and hands-on experience.

The free, open session will be a part of the Hutt Valley STEMM Festival - Saturday 13 May 11:00am to 1:00pm, The Dowse.

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