Why Your Arts Degree Really Does Matter in Our AI-Driven Future

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As Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech transforms the future of work, creativity will remain one of the last vestiges of human beings’ competitive advantage in the workplace. Research from salary-data website Emolument found that graduates with an academic background in the Arts or Humanities earn more later in life than those focused on the Sciences.

Despite this, the reputation of an arts education suffers from a negative feedback loop. Arts and music courses at all levels up to undergraduate studies are woefully underfunded, setting the stage for creative schooling to be under-emphasized or even actively discouraged.

The situation is exacerbated with a lack of, well, creativity in how we frame Arts courses when compared with STEM subjects. The “brand” of a creative path often gets viewed with a limited scope concerning growth and earnings potential, not as a route for unlimited opportunities and promise. More government funding can certainly help, especially with building a better educational foundation. But what needs to change is for stakeholders—students, schools, recruiters, and companies—to unpick outdated assumptions about the Arts and reframe the premise and bias of creative education.

The truth is, in our AI-driven future, the Arts are an essential balance to a hyper-analytical, data-driven world enmeshed by AI.

Creativity is more valuable than it’s ever been. As we confront issues of bias and ethics intrinsic to implementing AI, we’ll soon need to answer some hard questions, like does AI improve society? How does it change the human condition, and is that change a positive one? Can it be steered to be so? Finding actionable answers to these questions can’t be accomplished by an algorithm. The answers sit above pure computational analysis and come from a native and completely human source—the mind (and the heart).

As incredible as the information age has been in terms of the pace and effects of innovation, we now see some of the more negative results of the “primacy of algorithm." By trying to define and exploit human behavior with data-driven marketing, privacy-be-damned tracking, and increasingly ineffectual personal data security, we’re becoming more inhuman.

The Arts are certainly one of, if not the most important advantage we have over the power of the algorithm. As AI accelerates to previously unimaginable levels, the value of steering it increases accordingly. We can’t out-analyze AI, but we can shape it. With this newfound importance, the tide of creative studies will shift. Creative careers of the future will look nothing like they do today—they will likely draw more broadly from both logic and beauty. I’m confident they will be more viable, valuable, and essential.

New technologies are already in the process of challenging the prevalent myth of the poor artist, and AI is accelerating this evolution. For example, NFTs, a derivative component of cryptocurrency, have already forced us to reconsider the traditional art curation and gallery model. It’s created an open market for both established and emerging artists, with a record of new creatives hitting seven figures on opening releases, allowing the rise of the likes of Beeple, a graphic designer known for a variety of digital artwork that includes VR and AR pieces.

The trend is likely to continue with the broader emergence and integration of AI into our everyday lives. If steered well, AI can have a democratic effect on previously undervalued fields by accelerating discovery—including talent, concept, or price discovery—by avoiding the prejudice and stratification that can sometimes come from human-managed markets.

Likewise, we’ll see an increase in the use of AI for Art’s sake. New methods and tools will welcome the use of AI as a paintbrush, chisel, or lens—still and always with a human behind it. AI will augment and reshape ancient practices by allowing the invention of new ones. A traditional sculptor can use AI-powered augmented reality to visualize and forward-stimulate her work, or we might see a new form of sculpture where projects are effectively grown and seeded directly from a human mind and 3D-printed using AI-governed robotics.

Recently graduated creatives and those experiencing a slump in confidence can use creativity as a tool to empower others to thrive in the workforce of the future equally. Your degree, and your passion for pursuing it, stem from a fundamentally different way of approaching the world. Your arts degree isn’t an anchor—it’s a lever.

Think of it and use it accordingly.

Fran Roberts leads Trollbäck’s innovation and emergent technologies projects, bringing 20 years as a director and creative director working with brands like Apple, Reebok, Microsoft, IMAX, Porsche, Marriott, and others. He has a highly versatile and adaptive creative skillset, seamlessly mixing CGI, live action, experience design, creative coding, generative art, and AR/VR/XR to create new experiences.