Humanities in the era of coding

The interdisciplinary aspect of Social Sciences and Sciences will pave the way for education of the future

Published - March 07, 2021 12:12 am IST

Sciences and Social sciences will need to work in harmony for the world of the future, as one is incomplete without the other.

Sciences and Social sciences will need to work in harmony for the world of the future, as one is incomplete without the other.

Should Social Science embrace data or should Science embrace qualitative theories? In India, the quest for academic excellence, evidenced through quantitative exam scores, has deepened the divide between data and theory. The continuing existence of this notion confirms that our academia and industry are operating in silos and, in some verticals, are drifting farther apart.

The problems of today and the complex world of tomorrow need to be viewed from multiple lenses — of the past and future. Interestingly, Social Science and Science are distinct areas that need to come together, as one lies in the past and other in the future.

In the words of Steve Jobs, “Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.” For years, Jobs repeatedly emphasised that, to create a better world, the focus needs to be both on humans and technology; in other words both humanities and sciences.

In today’s complex global setting, critical thinking and creativity is imperative for technological advancements that also uphold pillars of equity, inclusiveness and diversity. To cite an example, as more and more countries embrace facial recognition technologies to maintain law and order, it is increasingly being discovered that some of these facilities are not designed to accommodate diverse facial features. This makes such technologies discriminatory and entire populations of diverse races are possibly at risk of wrongful action by law enforcement agencies.

While the future of the world heavily relies on the merit of technology, humanities bring in empathy and ethics, which lead to a seamless integration of technology into lifestyles. The interdisciplinary aspect of humanities and technology paves the way for education of the future.

Perfect marriage

Scott Hartley, a venture capitalist and author of The Fuzzy and the Techie , calls for an urgent marriage between those who study social science and the techies. This 2017 book cites success stories of those who obtained social science degrees and then went on to create history in Silicon Valley and other fields.

Among the few examples Hartley mentions are Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal who studied philosophy and law, and Alex Karp, co-founder and CEO of Palantir, who has a law degree and a doctorate in neoclassical social theory.

He suggests that, while techies will be in demand, a specific advantage that social science graduates had was their differentiation. According to Hartley, the humanities involves a study of human nature and larger societies and that this allows students to develop a diverse toolkit to analyse and decode most of the fundamental problems plaguing our societies. Thus, innovation in science and technology must be accompanied by an understanding of the human condition.

In India, the hiring trends are in favour of an interdisciplinary approach to learning. In one of his talks, Dr. Manish Gupta, Director of Google Research India, once said, “For all the tough problems that arise as we apply AI in the real world, we will need a lot of help from the ethicists, philosophers, economists, lawyers and psychologists.” Hence, while STEM jobs will only gain momentum, investing in an education that only teaches computing languages and not the depth of science may not be useful in the long run.

In 2021, as the world emerges from the unprecedented challenges, problem solving will need to be viewed through an interwoven lens where innovations are anchored firmly within a framework of liberal education values. Both the social and technical bugs within discriminatory algorithms will need to be fixed. Sciences and social sciences will need to work in harmony for the world of the future, as one is incomplete without the other.

The writer is Director, Career Services, at Krea University

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