The future of tech relies on humanities degrees

The evolving tech industry has long been alluring to young professionals, with many pursuing STEM-focused degrees to safeguard their future career prospects. This has led to a sentiment that humanities degrees could be a less worthwhile path to follow. However, with the development of emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing, we will need those with humanities degrees to deal with future issues, namely ethical dilemmas, the outdating of technical skills, and the need for soft skills.

A graduation hat on top of a blue book next to rolled up paper with a red bow. Graduation concept

The tech industry has long been very alluring for young professionals, offering an engaging and potentially lucrative career. Consequently, the technical nature of many roles has started to generate a sentiment that non-technical degrees are not a worthwhile pursuit. Yet with the rate of development of emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing, this is not necessarily accurate.

As the new university year approaches, fewer students will be beginning a degree in arts and humanities subjects than before. We’ve seen a fall of 40,000 enrolments over the last decade and Sheffield Hallam University recently suspended its English Literature degree. Members of UK government have been magnifying this belief by speculating about the phasing out of degrees with low-earning potential, with the reasoning that that they don’t equip young workers with the necessary skills for our current job market.

In parallel, we are on the brink of a potential quantum age. Quantum computing, with its unprecedented speeds and processing power, promises to transform our computing abilities and further the development of next-gen AI. Naturally, we will need to equip our emerging workforce with complimentary skills, which is driving a rise in popularity for STEM degrees. Acceptances to computer science courses rising by almost 50% in the last decade, and acceptances to the newer AI courses having seen a tremendous 400% rise.

But this isn’t the end of humanities degrees, far from it. In fact, humanities degrees are going to be vital in the rapidly advancing world of tech.

Dealing with ethical dilemmas

Despite once being heralded as technology of movies and science fiction, AI is now a common reality of modern-day life and quantum computing will soon follow suit. Predictions show that by next year, 25% of the Fortune Global 500 will be using some form of quantum computing to gain a competitive advantage. However, many questions remain about what appropriate usage actually looks like.

Regulation in quantum computing and other advancing technologies is going to be key to making sure that they aren’t being abused or misused. Already, we are facing issues with AI and quantum that need to be addressed – for instance, AI’s intrinsic bias problem. The effects of bias within datasets are only going to be intensified by quantum computing, and it will become impossible to manually analyse and redress its impact. To deal with the handling and regulation of quantum effectively, we need to be nurturing skills like ethics and decision making – valuable skills that arts and humanities degrees intrinsically teach students.

We can already see a plethora of ethical dilemmas emerging. As the trend of quantum computing explodes, how will we make sure that it's used in a socially responsible manner? How will we enable fair access to quantum computing? How will we stop the monopolisation of quantum by companies? There are many issues we cannot predict, but we do know that we will need strict standards in the technology industry, and we need people to decide and enforce them – and these are unlikely to come from the pure tech or scientific community, whose focus tends to be solely on progress.

The clock is ticking for developers

The inherent fast-paced nature of the tech industry means the needs of the job market are constantly changing. For example, right now software developers are in increasingly high demand. There are over 465,700 software development professionals and programmers in the UK, more than doubling the 224,000 that there were a decade ago in 2011. However, as technology continues to rapidly advance, the advent of practical usage of quantum computing will begin to render these software developers' jobs obsolete as the knowledge required evolves.

It has been suggested that the half-life of a specific technical skill is now only 2.5 years. With the intense speed of technological development, any skills being learned now could be redundant a few years after graduating.

Therefore, instead of exclusively focussing on equipping our workforce with specific technical skills, we need to prepare for the longer-term requirements that will be necessary when technology itself supersedes the rate of human development. Supplementing a tech-minded workforce with non-tech workers with different perspectives, such as those with humanities backgrounds, can bring balance and enable teams to navigate these evolving needs more readily, drawing on knowledge that will not become outdated as the sector advances.

Nurturing skills for the future

As technology progresses, many tech-skilled roles will become automated. We need to start nurturing the skills that we need for our future tech workforce.

Our future workforce will need to have the soft skills that humanities degrees bring to survive the fast-paced sector of technology. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills will be essential to be able to grapple with unprecedented problems and rapid developments. Communication skills involving public speaking, teamwork, professional writing and leadership skills will be indispensable to working with the many companies and groups that will be beginning to work with quantum computing.

In a future where developers’ jobs may be significantly reduced, those with skills from humanities degrees will be necessary for the future of technology.