Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Joseph E. Aoun

How to educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—filling needs that even the most sophisticated robot cannot.





How to educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—filling needs that even the most sophisticated robot cannot.

Driverless cars are hitting the road, powered by artificial intelligence. Robots can climb stairs, open doors, win Jeopardy, analyze stocks, work in factories, find parking spaces, advise oncologists. In the past, automation was considered a threat to low-skilled labor. Now, many high-skilled functions, including interpreting medical images, doing legal research, and analyzing data, are within the skill sets of machines. How can higher education prepare students for their professional lives when professions themselves are disappearing? In Robot-Proof, Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun proposes a way to educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—to fill needs in society that even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence agent cannot.

A “robot-proof” education, Aoun argues, is not concerned solely with topping up students' minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it calibrates them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or create something valuable to society—a scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a web comic, a cure for cancer. Aoun lays out the framework for a new discipline, humanics, which builds on our innate strengths and prepares students to compete in a labor market in which smart machines work alongside human professionals. The new literacies of Aoun's humanics are data literacy, technological literacy, and human literacy. Students will need data literacy to manage the flow of big data, and technological literacy to know how their machines work, but human literacy—the humanities, communication, and design—to function as a human being. Life-long learning opportunities will support their ability to adapt to change.

The only certainty about the future is change. Higher education based on the new literacies of humanics can equip students for living and working through change.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262037280 216 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


$17.95 T ISBN: 9780262535977 216 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


  • This book is an authoritative call for action and a compelling model for the next step in the evolution of higher education. Aoun offers an optimistic—and more important, realistic—vision of how we can educate ourselves for an AI economy.

    Jeffrey S. Bornstein

    Vice Chairman & Chief Financial Officer, GE

  • Dr. Aoun is a leader in framing new educational models to enable student readiness for careers in our evolving economy. Our future as a nation depends on getting this right.

    Wes Bush

    Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Northrop Grumman Corporation

  • In this original, timely, and provocative study, President Aoun challenges higher education to think differently about and prepare for the age of artificial intelligence. He appeals to universities to foster a generation of lifelong learners who can master robotics, not be mastered by it—a generation that will be prepared to meet the demands of a new economy and the revolutionized nature of the workplace.

    Vartan Gregorian

    President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

  • Joseph Aoun's book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology-infused world and higher education's place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly benefit from this cogent, persuasively written work.

    Janet Napolitano

    President, University of California, and former Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security