The manner of educating children and adults is very slow to change and for several centuries now has continued to copy the same approaches based on memorization. Primarily because of a lack of teachers, maximum emphasis has been placed on mass education, where the same approach is applied to each individual using the same teaching materials and the same standard of measurement. Individual education is expensive and thus inefficient. It’s a kind of vicious cycle.
However, for the first time in human history we can break the circle with Artificial Intelligence technology (AI).
We can think of AI as the ability of computer programs to work in a manner similar to the human brain without any clearly given advance programming. AI has not yet reached the level of the human brain, but it can take advantage of unlimited capacity possibilities and fast copying. If we teach AI to work like an individual teacher, we can very quickly offer such a teacher to every individual and transform education from a mass to an individual approach.
Is it even possible to replace a teacher with a program?
Of course, we cannot yet think about replacing teachers as people, but technology now exists that can help human teachers when practicing certain subjects. Teachers then have much more time for explanation and important human interaction with students.
Let’s take a look at some practical examples.
A new startup company called SmallStep has created AI technology that can take any text in a particular area of knowledge and automatically create teaching and learning materials. SmallStep is now testing the technology in English in particular fields.
Consider a large pharmaceutical company that requires its employees to master professional/business English. Simply “feed” the technology a large number of English articles about the pharmaceutical business and it will generate learning exercises and quizzes called “instructional objects”.
A second, related AI technology then monitors the progress of each student. It prepares exercises for each student, completely tailored to their particular abilities and progress. This ensures the most effective approach to teaching (learning trajectory). The teacher monitors the overall progress of the student online and during interviews. Thanks to this technology, a teacher can manage up to ten times more students.
Another startup called Illumina is innovating the way math is taught at elementary schools. Every child has difficulty with different mathematical concepts. The teaching at school is often not enough and the child has to do extra work at home. But many children do not have the help they need at home to do this.
Children who have trouble with math might at the same time be very good at playing computer games, because games intelligently interact with children. Illumina has designed an extensive set of computer games to teach math that use artificial intelligence to interact with children and track specific learning goals.
Imagine that your child has trouble with division and fractions. AI built in to a fun computer game will be able to teach the child problem areas more effectively than if you sat down with them for a few days. Your child will choose the right time for leaning and you will have more time to talk and play with them.
Startup companies like Smallstep and Illumina are part of the Czech incubator program for artificial intelligence called the AI Startup Incubator. For now such teaching systems are still in the embryonic phase, but it is important to realize that a fundamental improvement in teaching efficiency will have an enormous leverage effect on humanity as a whole. These technologies have no capacity limitation and in the future anyone with a basic computer and Internet connection will have the opportunity of getting individual instruction that not even the wealthiest enjoy today.
Over the next five years the number of people connected to the Internet will increase from 4 to 8 billion, especially in developing countries that will then gain historically unprecedented access to education. The combination of artificial intelligence technology and institutions that already provide online education such as Coursera or Udacity will extraordinary growth to all of human society.
Things we can expect include:
- Personal assistants that will track our overall growth and recommend areas that we might improve in and ways to do this as efficiently as possible.
- Future technology connecting computers with the brain, i.e. Brain – Computer interfaces that will increase the efficiency and speed of information transmission even more.
- Augmented Reality technology, that will enable broader sensory perception based on images and other senses and artificial intelligence will again enable such technology to be better tailored to our needs.
- Perfect simulation of human speech or likeness, so it will be possible to revive historic figures or have a personal physics teacher who looks exactly like Einstein.
- The massive availability of individual areas of knowledge will fundamentally reduce the price of education and increase its accessibility.
In conclusion it is necessary to realize that it may be more critical to increase the effectiveness of educating adults rather than children, because the structure of work is beginning to change, and artificial intelligence is beginning to replace human labor in areas where it is more efficient and cheaper. The speed and effectiveness of retraining people for new types of work will be essential for maintaining a functioning society as a whole.
That is precisely why it is so important not to resist these technologies, and to the contrary, use them to improve ourselves.
Petr Šrámek for the Czech portal Prima Zoom