FINANCE

Bill Nye the Science Guy says these 2 skills are ones that everyone needs—and can help ‘change the world.’

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Odds are, if you grew up in the 1990s or 2000s, you learned something about biology, chemistry, or physics from none other than Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The high-energy Boeing engineer turned science education superstar has kept up with the times and is just as famous as ever, tackling topics ranging from climate change and evolution to marijuana and sexually transmitted diseases on his platforms like Netflix and TikTok.

But over the past few months—and even years—Bill Nye has been trying to calm fears about artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on society.

While many leaders in the education world, Sal Khan for example, have become bullish instead of anxious about AI, especially generative AI like ChatGPT, Nye believes people in general are more “wound up and freaked out” by the technology now more than ever. 

“We have this society that’s splitting on everything,” Nye tells Fortune. “One of the things they’re splitting on is science or the process by which we understand the world around us, and the pandemic was really divisive that way.” 

AI, on the other hand, will soon be divisive in the same way “because everybody’s afraid of it,” he explains.

The skills needed to save the world

In order to stay ahead of the AI game, Nye says there are quintessential skills that every individual should have.

First off, people need to learn how to code, he explains—comparing the skill to learning the alphabet and being able to type.

“Just being literate in the modern world, you got to learn the alphabet, and you got to learn to write computer code,” Nye says, adding that being able to write a little bit of code will help people solve problems electronically and arrive at arithmetic answers.

More broadly, he says key to the world being more cooperative is that individuals need to have critical thinking skills—one of the most in-demand soft skills.

“We need people that can question things; it doesn’t mean that everything you hear is wrong. The world is round, turns out to be true. It means you have the habit of mind, the ability, the inclination, to evaluate evidence to evaluate claims. If we could do that, if we could imbue that in society, we would change the world,” he adds.

By pairing critical thinking with being technologically literate, fears about AI may decline.

“I think when we all learn what to expect of artificial intelligence, we’ll all be better able to use our critical thinking skill, to get the artificial intelligence to do what we want, what you want machines to get better and better at doing what you want them to do,” Nye says.

Talking about AI before it was cool

Soon after seeing the sci-fi movie Ex Machina, Nye explained to Big Think in 2016 that it is purely science fiction to think about robots taking over, especially when billions of people across the world still do not access to clean, running water.

“I remind us that if we can build a computer smart enough to figure out that it needs to kill us, we can unplug it,” Nye said in 2016.

The same premise applies to today’s fears of AI, with Nye telling Fortune that many students above all are aware of how AI can be wrangled and ultimately be used for good.

“Kids are seeing it for what it is— it’s a tool—it is not some monster kind of a thing,” says Duncan Kane, chief administrative officer and executive sponsor from Toshiba for ExploraVision, a long-running science competition. “It is, in fact, a tool, and the kids that we’re talking about today have grown up with computers, they have grown up with mobile devices, this is just another tool, another way for them to get information.”

Kane, who previously served as chief human resources officer for Toshiba, adds that instead of eliminating jobs, AI will eliminate non-creative work and free up more time for individuals to not complete tedious tasks.

Nye, who has long served as spokesperson and collaborator for the ExploraVision project, adds that AI is going to be “part of our future one way or the other. So what’s not to love?”

Nye’s advice for recent graduates

Nye has given countless commencement addresses throughout his career as a science educator and public figure. In 1999, he encouraged graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution to use their new knowledge for the good of society.

“Keep your passion and don’t lose your head. Go forward, do good work, and help make this a better world,” he told the students.

His advice for 2024 graduates? It comes down to two things: Just get started, and then pay attention to politics.

“This is an extraordinary time, and what people get anxious about is when they don’t have agency when they feel like they can’t do anything about the world, situation, what’s around them,” Nye says. “So, participate or pay attention to politics, and be sure to vote. It gives a person the ability to do something to influence the environment, the world around you. Get started on a career, you can change once you get going, and then pay attention to politics and vote.”

He also added one last bonus piece of advice: “Be curious. Stay curious.”





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