There is a brand new scam in the country. This time it is a series of apps and services preying on our youth who are looking for a direction in life. Lately, there has been a surplus of apps and programmes (with websites of stock images of White men and women looking happy) that are being promoted as “AI based aptitude and career counselling”. Not only is the colonial mindset being promoted about success and happiness, but we are eagerly outsourcing some important discussions to nonsense algorithms.
These websites and career counselling centres use buzz words (like AI), upload two minute videos from experts (who have never met the person on the other end of the screen), and then use a survey of open-ended useless questions to figure out what should the student do for the rest of their lives. At the end of the survey is nothing insightful, but an “AI recommended” suggestion on what to do in life. Never mind trying to understand the student, learning about his or her vision, what matters to them in life, or their engagement with society. Never mind encouraging them to reflect, and giving them the advice to explore. Instead, some brilliant MBA-type decided to jump on the buzzword bandwagon to capture a market that is willing to pay for junk information. From a business standpoint, it works out well, since there is no liability for bad advice. If the advice is really bad, after all it was the computer who made that recommendation. The aggrieved party should feel free to sue the algorithm. The only downside is that we may lose future scholars, thinkers, poets, artists, scientists and historians — because they were told that they should do something else.
The only thing worse than telling eighteen year olds definitively what they should, or should not, choose as a career is having an algorithm do that for them.
While the AI bit is certainly new, and this counselling business is clearly a scam, the notion of others deciding for our youth what career is good for them is as old as I can imagine. We have hardened societal notions of what success is for a young boy or a young girl. Smart boys should study engineering, and smart girls should do medicine. Philosophy and history is bad, MBA is good. Choosing to become a teacher means something is wrong with your head, and law is only good if it is corporate. Thinking has been outsourced, reflection has been stamped out.
The world is complex and is changing fast. It is also unfair and unequal and our global society needs healing and leadership. Our students, who are just as brilliant as anywhere else in the world, should explore and find their inner calling. It may be in theoretical physics or linguistics, but the choice should be theirs. Our students should be encouraged to think about creating lasting contribution through active engagement with society. No matter what the prevailing notions may be, they should recognise that there are more than three professions in the world. They should be empowered to think for themselves.
I am not arguing against advice from those who have experience, instead I am arguing for more of it. I am arguing that students and their mentors should discuss what drives the students, and how to best live their lives. I am arguing that career counselling should not be a one-time thing, but one that continues throughout the high school years and well into college and university. Above all, I am arguing that a website or an app has no business in choosing a career for a young person in our society.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2021.