The most valuable college majors will prepare students for a world right out a science fiction novel.
- The future of work is going to require a range of skills learned that take into account cutting edge advancements in technology and science.
- The most valuable college majors in the future will prepare students for new economies and areas of commerce.
- Mathematics, engineering and science related educational majors will become an ubiqitous feature of the new job market.
The future of work is going to be something beyond our wildest dreams. Our universities and future crop of students cannot afford to fall behind in this incredibly new and competitive environment. While fears of automation taking away all our jobs are largely unfounded and overhyped, many professions will cease to exist. But the foundations for entire new spectrums of commerce and education are already being laid.
We may be in the infancy of a new space age, where we'll need structural engineers to build Moon buildings and lawyers who can fight for their clients in new land domains outside of Earth. Personalized medicine may turn a regular old trip to the doctor more akin to a cosmetic enhancement appointment.
The students and citizens of the future world need to be prepared. These seven most valuable college majors take into account short-term job growth prospects, future relevance and need for problems we've yet to face.
Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineering
Bill Ingalls NASA via Getty Images
Aeronautics and aviation technology is a major area of growth both on this planet and off of it.
In the nearterm, expected employment rate is estimated to grow 5 percent by 2020. These degree programs focus mostly on aerodynamics and mechanics, preparing their students to either become pilots or focus on applied engineering.
Most aerospace programs have a rigorous curriculum designed to produce only the best engineers and weed out those that can't hack it. Students will be learning about thermodynamics, flight mechanics and on the space side – spacecraft design, orbital mechanics and more.New heavy hitters like billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk are all funnelling billions into rocket companies intent on exploring and colonizing our closest celestial neighbors. That's not even taking into account the booming drone business taking to the skies here on Earth and established institutions and companies like NASA and Boeing advancing into space.
The underpinnings of our greatest technology is written in the language of math. While Americans in primary schools may not be faring that well in the subject, it's still vitally important to understand as a precedent for a multitude of scientific disciplines. With an unemployment rate of only two percent and high paying salaries right out the gate, applied mathematics is a necessity in almost every field.
Someone highly skilled in mathematics can take established techniques and apply them in new ways in emerging fields. Mathematicians are highly prized in research institutes, chemical manufacturers and within start-ups.
Photo by Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images
Advertising is a dynamic field that is continually changing as new media mediums emerge into the fold. Writing ad copy once reserved for print advertisements now flows out from our smartphones and pervades the digital realm as we explore virtual worlds.
The future of augmented and virtual realities will bring about a multi-trillion dollar industry run off the back of advertising dollars.There is an expected ten percent growth by 2022. Massive companies like Alphabet and Facebook solely exist because they've created a new need and space for companies and customers alike to connect. Commerce will never tire of the marketing or ad executive.
Future electronic Mad Men will sell you trips to orbital resorts. Holographic screens will advertise the best place to get a genomic tune up. There will always be a need to advertise.
The robotics field has been active nearly since the early 20th century. Myths and the history of automatons is as old as human civilization. But the field has never more exciting than it is now. While some universities offer standalone robotics degrees – skills needed to enter the robotics field usually come from a number of different engineering degrees.
The robotics field is so vast with specialized niches growing in number everyday. Skillsets range from programming to mechanical engineering. A good background in computer science or engineering is a plus. But it really depends on what type of aspect of robotics you want to study. Even psychologists could be useful in the event our robotics become conscious, we'll need every skill set and variety of human expertise involved for our new silicon creations.
Many scientists believe that the next best programming language to learn has been with us forever – at least as far as the biosphere is concerned. DNA is the language of life and it's something we're realizing can be programmed, augmented and made greater than it already is. The future of medicine and how we view ourselves will be dependent on the next great artists… Biological artists will use the minutatie of DNA as their new pastels and paint brushes, the body as the ultimate canvas.
We may be a long way from tweaking the genomes of our new children and one day genetically engineering full grown adults, but with tools like CRISPR-Cas9 – we're on our way there. Currently bioengineers work in hospitals and build medical devices among other things. The field is as broad and varied as life's genome itself. Within the next ten years the job market is expected to grow by 7 percent.
Some people liken understanding how to code nowadays as being on par with literacy a thousand or so years ago. While we won't all need to be proficient in writing C++ and querying databases, the computer wizzes who can are the ones speaking the language of the computational zeitgeist.
There is a large need for information technology and software engineering related jobs. The foundations of our society are all online and connected. Core computational knowledge will be a necessity as we build new super computers and delve into the exciting world of quantum computing. Employment of software developers alone is projected to increase by 24 percent to the mid 2020s.
Signing of the Outerspace Treaty
As long as humanity exists there will be disputes. Lawyers are the ultimate arbiters of dispute between individuals, nationstates, and corporations. Space law is an exciting and growing new field. Diplomatic policy between the many new actors in space is a must if we're to live in a peaceful and prosperous new era.Right now the Space Treaty is our piece of old legislation that governs the great beyond. That was also written in a time when we knew nothing of our capabilities and desires to spread through the stars. These problems were reserved for far out science fiction writers, but not any longer. With NASA giving out space law grants to universities and Ronald Reagan-esque proclamations about the new Space Force coming from President Donald Trump, people are seriously thinking about our future in space. And for that, we'll always need more lawyers.
Many of our greatest fears stem from uncertainty about the future, and technology has made the future very uncertain indeed.
- Americans are scared, but hardly alone; people are primed by evolution to worry over their inability to control their future environment.
- Oxford professor Nick Bostrom has painted a doomsday scenario. Are he and Elon Musk correct?
- Even if these six fears come to pass—and some of them surely will—they aren't guaranteed to be as catastrophic as we think. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are incredibly bad at predicting the future.
The future is a scary place. According to a 2017 survey, many Americans' greatest fears—economic collapse, another world war, not having enough money for the future, etc.—are concerns over the state of tomorrow. (Although it is worth noting that their number one fear, corrupt government officials, is a clear and ever-present danger.)
Americans are hardly alone. People are primed to worry over their inability to control their future environment. Tomorrow's unpredictability requires that our brains view it with suspicion, as a potential threat to our survival. Unfortunately for our survival-primed brains, technology's influence is making our future ever more protean.Today's technological advancements occur exponentially, and the average person will have to adjust to changes that would have previously taken several generations. Many of these advancements will, no doubt, be beneficial. Others, however, could prove less than advantageous.
Elon Musk speaks onstage at SXSW 2018 in Austin, Texas. During the conversation, Musk shared his fears over the future of AI.
(Photo by Diego Donamaria/Getty Images for SXSW)
Imagine a paperclip company creates an artificial superintelligence and tasks it with the single goal of making as many paperclips as possible. The company's stock soars, and humanity enters the golden age of the paperclip.
But something unexpected happens. The AI surveys the natural resources we need to survive and decides those could go a long way toward paperclip manufacturing. It consumes those resources in an effort to fulfill its prime directive, "make as many paperclips as possible," and wipes out humanity in the process.
This thought experiment, devised by Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, details just one potential danger in creating an artificial superintelligence—that being, we need to be very careful with our words.
"I'm very close to the cutting-edge of AI, and it scares the hell out of me," Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, said at SXSW 2018. "It is capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential. […] We have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital superintelligence is one which is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest exponential crisis that we face."Bostrom and Musk paint worst-case scenarios, but there are plenty of worries over artificial superintelligence that don't end in human genocide. Experts have postulated that AI could automate terrorism, mass produce propaganda, and streamline hacking to devastating effects.
Americans have steadily been losing work to automation for decades, but the trend appears to be picking up speed. Self-driving cars, for example, could soon displace 5 million workers nationwide.
But taxi drivers aren't the only people who should be worried. A McKinsey Global Institute study suggests that nearly 70 million people could lose their jobs to automation by 2030. U.S. workers in retail, agriculture, manufacturing, and food services may find their jobs on the automated chopping block.No wonder Americans fear the incoming robo-revolution. A Pew Research report found that 72 percent of U.S. adults surveyed expressed worry over automation, compared with 33 percent who were enthusiastic. A majority were also hesitant to consider using automated services such as driverless cars or robotic caregivers.
We create robots to fight our wars for us, but they turn on their masters and bring ruin to our world. It's a classic science fiction conceit, and one we're much closer to than, say, first contact. Autonomous drones are already available, and it is only a matter of time before they make the leap from selfie-machine to combatant.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots worries about this future, but not about robotic warriors turning on their masters. Rather, the campaign believes that autonomous weapons will lead to an erosion of accountability in armed conflicts between states.
As stated on the campaign's website:
The use of fully autonomous weapons would create an accountability gap as there is no clarity on who would be legally responsible for a robot's actions: the commander, programmer, manufacture, or robot itself? Without accountability, these parties would have less incentive to ensure robots did not endanger civilians and victims would be left unsatisfied that someone was punished for the harm they experienced.
Considering the difficulties already associated with prosecuting war crimes, the concern is worth consideration.
Vicious virtual reality
A group of children wearing virtual reality headsets.
(Photo by Getty Images)
Virtual reality is here, and it looks way better than the '80s led us to believe it would. But as with any new technology, trepidation has welled up over to how it will affect people's wellbeing, especially children.
"The gap between 'things that happen to my character' and 'things that happen to me' is bridged," Scott Stephen, a VR designer, told The New Yorker. "The way I process these scares is not through the eyes of a person using their critical media-viewing faculty but through eyes of I, the self, with all of the very human, systems-level, subconscious voodoo that comes along with that."Because the technology's availability has been limited until recently, not many studies that have looked at VR's effects on children, and the studies we have aren't conclusive. One study showed that children were more likely to create a false memory under VR's influence, but another study has shown its ability to reduce anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures.
Baleful biomedical technologies
In the coming years, we could cultivate biomaterials in labs to replace failing organs and splice genes in utero so children won't suffer the debilitating inherited diseases of their forebearers. Biomedical technologies promise a future where we are all better, stronger, faster and at the fraction of the cost of one Steve Austin.
But a 2016 Pew Research report suggests that Americans don't see these medical advancements as incoming miracles. Of those surveyed, a majority said they were either somewhat or very worried about brain chips that make us smarter (69 percent), genetic editing to reduce babies' risk of disease (68 percent), and synthetic blood to improve physical abilities (63 percent).
Their reasoning? Such enhancements "could exacerbate the divide between haves and have-nots" and be used as a measure of superiority by their recipients. The more religious a participant, the more likely they were to believe such technologies were "meddling with nature" and "crosses a line we should not cross." Mostly though, we just loathe the idea of neighbors throwing a get-together to show off their fancy new brain chips.
Wholesale nuclear power
The ghost town of Pripyat, Ukraine, with the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the background.
(Photo by MediaProduction/Getty Images)
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Since then, nuclear weapons have been an existential threat to our species. As of Jan. 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock at a mere two minutes to midnight.
But weapons of mass destruction aren't why nuclear made this list. It's here because of people dread nuclear energy.
In a 2016 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans surveyed (54 percent) were opposed to nuclear energy, the first time a majority opposed the prospect since 1994, when Gallup first started asking the question. Of course, it's not hard to where the fear originates. When nuclear power plants fail, they fail with devastating consequences. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, the list is longer than we'd like.
But some experts argue that we need nuclear energy to decarbonize quickly enough to avert major climate catastrophe. Not only does nuclear power produce immense amounts of energy, it also has a low-carbon footprint (lower than even solar)."In most of the world, especially the rich world, they're not talking about building new reactors. We're actually talking about taking reactors down before their lifetimes are over," Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress, said during his TED talk. "[The United States] could lose half of our reactors over the next 15 years, which would wipe out 40 percent of the emissions reductions we're supposed to get under the Clean Power Plan."
A cloudy crystal ball
So, is the future a technological murder mansion, a place where every dark corner hides a robotic horror waiting to kill all humans or, at the very least, take all our jobs? Maybe, but probably not.
People have a strong desire to predict the course of tomorrow, and whole social movements, from futurists to psychics to horoscopes, have sprung up to meet that demand. Such conjectures return to us a semblance of control with regards to our future environment.
To pick a few well-known examples: In the late 18th century Thomas Malthus argued that unless family size was regulated, humanity would overpopulate the planet and create a misery of famine. In 1989 Francis Fukuyama foresaw the end of history. And in 1998 the Y2K bug was predicted to wipe out computer networks across the world.
But Malthus couldn't predict the technological advancements in agriculture that could feed billions more people than existed in his day; Fukuyama could not foresee the political upheaval of events such as 9/11; and Y2K doomsayers, well, they were just wrong.
Even if these six fears come to pass — and some of them surely will — they aren't guaranteed to be as bad as predicted. Automation could wipe out 70 million jobs, but new innovations could generate new jobs needing to be filled. Biomedical technologies could widen the expanding gap between classes, but if treat them as reconstructive procedures, rather than aesthetic ones, then everyone should have a right to benefit.
That makes you feel better about the future… right?
How do you make yourself valuable in an ever-changing economy? You become well-rounded.
Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of social entrepreneurship firm Ashoka, thinks that doing business today relies on being as prismatic and as open as possible. That's how you become, as he puts it, a "change maker." The world doesn't need more specialists, he posits, because well-rounded people open to new ideas and learning new skills can fit just about anywhere.