Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (2018). Book by Joseph E. Aoun. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 216 pp. $17.95, (Paperback), ISBN: 9780262037280.

Review by Lacey Klingensmith, Harvard University, [email protected] 

Increasingly sophisticated machines are now capable of performing a variety of formerly human-driven knowledge tasks. These changing workplace realities have significant implications not only for students, but also the educators who serve them. In Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, author Joseph Aoun presents a compelling argument that institutions of higher learning need to fundamentally reconsider how they fulfill their mission to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. To ensure that higher education remains relevant in the evolving economy, Aoun calls upon colleges and universities to realign their focus to become “engines for lifelong learning”, providing flexible opportunities for students and professionals to gain knowledge and hands-on experience in new areas as they are challenged to continuously retool and upskill throughout their careers. This is achieved through the development of a highly personalized model of higher education delivered through an innovative curriculum, “humanics”, which cultivates competencies drawn from interdisciplinary study in the liberal arts and sciences to nurture the uniquely human qualities of mental flexibility and creativity.

Robot-Proof is relevant to advisors because the growing imperative for lifelong learning suggests that they will serve a more diverse population of students as they see increasing numbers of adult professionals among their advisees. Moreover, as these lifelong learners attempt to navigate multiple majors, concentrations, and experiential learning opportunities around the world, academic advisors will be needed to help them successfully draw together disparate courses to construct a unique, highly personalized curriculum that plays upon each student’s strengths and empowers them to maximize their creative intellectual potential. Advisors who embrace NACADA’s concept of advising as teaching will thus benefit from becoming familiar with “humanics” and better position themselves to proactively guide their students in this endeavor.  

A particular strength of this book is that it exposes the vulnerability inherent in prescriptive forms of advising, which mirror the type of knowledge work that stands to be rendered obsolete by advances in artificial intelligence. Robot-Proof inspires academic advisors and other educators to consider how they can model and embody the qualities of the new humanics curriculum to become “robot-proof” themselves, and provides advisors with a means to articulate to senior leadership why it is important for them to be given institutional support and time to invest in their own continuing education and professional development. A shortcoming of this book is its primary focus on a model of higher education which would appear to only benefit students and professionals who are already participants in an advanced developed economy. The author does not address the very critical issue of affordability and access, leaving the reader to ponder how students of lesser means or learners in developing economies would be able to enter and quickly catch up in this evolving system of higher education.

For those who fear a robot takeover, this book offers a refreshingly optimistic perspective reminding readers that there is much reason to remain hopeful. Students and advisors alike can be empowered to transform such challenges into opportunities by embracing the spirit of lifelong learning offered through Aoun’s new model of higher education. Given the importance of the changing trends identified and further anticipated by the author and their potential to significantly impact the work of all who work in the field of higher education, this book is a highly recommended reading resource for academic advisors.

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