Let’s take a quick walk through the future:
You’re at the 2040 National Association of School Counselors annual conference and you notice a sign for something called the Algorithmic Hiring Center (AHC). Also on the sign is an invitation to have your “readiness profile” updated. Curious, you walk into the room.
You are greeted by an employee of the AHC. They give you a quick introduction to the center and its process, explaining how it matches middle school students with future job ideas. They also offer to schedule a time for you to view the AHC process in action, giving you a special sneak peek behind the scenes. With your interest piqued, you agree.
As you wait to enter, you begin to notice the small details in the waiting room. You see a video wall featuring the new updates on the center’s algorithmic matching, which has correctly predicted thousands of future careers. The director of the AHC says that this new algorithm takes into account a broad range of data points, including academic skills and knowledge, but also social and emotional skills. According to the video, the AHC is responding to the changing needs of the Class of 2044. The center is examining how automation is changing the nature of work and how a new career framework is gaining traction across industries, one that highlights projects, gigs, and tasks. As such, the AHC’s new update takes into account a fuller range of skills, knowledge, and dispositions—those that now define what it means to be ready for work.
After a few minutes have passed, you are greeted by another AHC employee and taken to a small office. They hand you a badge that reads “Evaluator 143” and ask you to put on a headset. As an evaluator, they explain, your job is to watch a middle school student go through the AHC matching process.
After a quick authentication process, you see Imani, an 8th grade student, login and upload her academic credentials and learning log, and give the system permission to monitor her biomarkers. As an evaluator, you are able to see potential job matches appear for Imani. The system then asks her if she would like to take a brief quiz to help narrow down her potential job matches. As Imani starts the quiz, job bubbles appear and disappear as she answers questions. At the end of the quiz, you are invited to tweak the algorithm before leaving the small office.
Created in 2018 by Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, the equityXinnovation lab, Remake Learning, and KnowledgeWorks, the AHC is a simulative tool intended to give participants a glimpse into the future by experiencing a small sliver of what the futures of work, hiring, and readiness might be like. Created in partnership with local students from several school districts, its intention is to ask questions about what that future might be like for learners in our most vulnerable communities.
In its 2020 revision, the AHC examined the dangers that multiply-marginalized girls, who sit at the intersections of some of the most oppressed identities, will encounter in a future more reliant on algorithms to sort and match people and careers.
“For communities who have endured systematic oppression for generations, the move to automation is reminiscent of past evolutions in how we work, are educated, and access housing, health, and wealth,” says Dr. Temple Lovelace of equityXinnovation lab.
Dr. Lovelace points to the work of Dr. Safiya Noble in Algorithms of Oppression and Joy Buolamwini’s Algorithmic Justice League, who have researched how algorithms have specifically impacted a simple image search for “woman” and “girl,” or facial recognition software that doesn’t recognize darker skin tones.
“We know that without careful consideration, algorithms can be used as a tool that further divides us,” Dr. Lovelace says. “Algorithms that are based in racialized data can allow for an already inequitable process to become more accelerated. What remains is that we are just oppressing marginalized communities faster.”
What she fears most is that while educators and researchers are doing great work in understanding what readiness for students in 2020 needs to look like for a career in 2040, they are not interrogating and preparing for a future in which these tools can be used to bring about more equitable, emancipatory experiences for youth.
“That’s what is so unique about the AHC,” she explains. “As a team, we’ve been able to take on several topics. We started with a simulation of the hiring process in 2018 and now are introducing an experience that features what career counseling might be for middle school girls with multiply-marginalized identities in just 20 years.”
This work, she stresses, didn’t occur in a silo. Young people have been involved in the creation of the AHC since the beginning. In the most recent build, middle school girls from Cornell School District and Manchester Academic Charter School were partners in the project.
According to ETC Educational Network Coordinator John Balash, the creation of the AHC mirrored many aspects of the education journey his department provides students today.
“The development process for the AHC experience reflects many of the core values and design pillars which set the ETC apart as a revolutionary program 20 years ago, and what keeps the department truly unique to this day,” he says. “Because of the pace and ever-changing nature of technology, we strive to prepare our students for uncertainty and to not fear failure, but rather learn from those moments and positively impact what comes next.”
Building on this legacy, Remake Learning observed a need for practical exploration of these topics within its network, and this upswell helped drive the development of the ACH forward.
“We’ve been caught in this inflection point for so long now, and what has become evident is that we need to move the conversation forward from an intellectual space into one where people can feel the realities of these possible futures,” says Remake Learning Field Director Ani Martinez. “We’re in a powerful moment of change, pushed forward by collectives of people. We know that no one organization can transform these systems alone, and that’s what the AHC has been about since the beginning.”
No one can know the future, but if we can think critically about the changes on the horizon and exercise our agency to shape it, we can create a future that’s more in accordance with our values. The AHC offers participants a chance to experience just one possibility of what might unfold. It invites them to question what they want from the future, and more importantly, invites them to take action to create it.