The irony of the ‘untact’ era

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The irony of the ‘untact’ era

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HAN AE-RAN
The author is the head of the financial team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Before Covid-19, I met my friends, a semiconductor designer, a children’s book author, a nurse and an elementary school teacher. We talked about whether artificial intelligence (AI) will take away our jobs. The semiconductor designer said AI may replace their jobs someday, but it was still cheaper to use humans. The children’s book writer was frustrated that illustrations by AI were not only excellent but also creative. The nurse projected that even with the development of AI, patients would still need human nurses.

The elementary teacher answered without hesitation, “AI can never replace human teachers.”

When the private education market is already dominated by online lectures, I was curious about their confidence.

“Class content may be provided online, but the role of having the kids sit in the classroom and pay attention to the lecture can only be done by humans,” they said, adding that AI could replace some parts of the job, but only human teachers could fully serve students in the end.

I was skeptical at the time. But with the Covid-19 outbreak and the unprecedented delay in school openings and online schooling approaching soon, I know for sure that the public school system, including the teachers, is essential.

It is not just for grand causes like the delivery of knowledge or nurturing democratic citizens. It is to have the society function properly. Parents should be able to maintain an ordinary routine of going to work with a belief that their kids are in good care at school. This requires humans, preferably teachers with reliable credentials, to be at schools.

There are prospects that Covid-19 will change the world in many ways. “Untact,” contact-less service without face-to-face encounters, is becoming a trend.

It is likely that a certain degree of “distancing” could remain a virtue even after Covid-19. At the same time, Covid-19 reminded us that ironically, certain areas cannot be fulfilled “untact.” I hope to return to the ordinary days where we can forget about the preciousness of public education and children can complain that they don’t want to go to school.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 29
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