by Fiona Leishman
The world around us is constantly evolving, with some advances feeling like something out of a science fiction movie. The latest area of our lives being upgraded is education, with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in schools.
This does not mean that the children of today will be taught by friendly humanoid robots – although that may yet be a possibility. Nor will they cease to learn how to form human relationships. Instead, AI is being used to tailor learning to the whole generation as well as the individual.
Professor Hannelore Lee-Jahnke, co-chairman of the Language Big Data Alliance (LBDA), understands the responsibilities of those with the potential to revolutionise the education sector.
“I think we have to train citizens to become citizens of the future, actors of tomorrow, and we have to enable them to work with big data, machine learning, deep learning, and the like,” he says.
So far AI has been brought into schools in several forms, from game-based learning to real time presentation translations in Powerpoint. Microsoft aims to democratise AI to make it work for everyone. For example, most people’s knowledge of augmented reality (AR) so far is primarily through apps such as Pokémon GO.
Microsoft has worked to take this technology a step further and bring it into an educational environment. Using a Microsoft HoloLens headset, medical institutions are teaching surgery and anatomy skills to students.
This allows the students to immerse themselves fully, as Farhin Khan, data and AI tech specialist for Microsoft, explains: “All of a sudden they’re in a room with their teacher and they can see the skeleton, and they can go and explore parts of the human body.”
It’s not just Microsoft who is working with the potential power of AI for education. Companies such as Content Technologies and Carnegie Learning have produced AI technology that provides breakdowns of textbooks, personalised tutoring and real time feedback.
Creating citizens of the future seems to be a common theme among leaders in the industry. Companies are focusing on how AI can be used to teach children, because it is becoming key to creating students who are ready for adult life.
Khan adds that: “The young generations today don’t see a disconnect between the physical and the digital world because it just comes naturally to them.”
A two-year-old can now navigate YouTube with ease, as swiping between videos has become a natural behaviour. Children nowadays are “phygital”, a word coined by Microsoft to describe how young people see no difference between the physical and digital world. They are growing up in a new and exciting era for tech, known to some as the fourth industrial revolution.
Khan believes that we are living in the world of unprecendented change. She said:
“We are living in the world of unprecedented change, a world where technology is not just disrupting our environment, but at the same time having the most exciting influence in our lives.”
But with these exciting new developments and technologies, we need to make sure that nobody is left behind. That is why companies such as Microsoft are working to democratise AI and the technology that comes with it.
Professor Lee-Jahnke believes that: “We should make AI a kind of enhanced intelligence, which is at the service of everybody.”
She is however aware of the anxieties and challenges facing AI development in the future: “We need a lot of courage, we need a lot of hard work, and I think we have to be ready to share our knowledge.”
The unpredictability of the future is to some exciting, and to others daunting. People are anxious about what they do not know. In reality, AI has become built in to everyday life without the mass population even realising. It powers the spam filter in your email inbox, fraud prevention and even Siri and Google on mobile phones.
Despite the world’s unknowing engagement with AI on a regular basis, there is still anxiety around the future of AI and what it means for employees. There is a persistent fear that as AI develops, robots will replace human workers, revolt and ultimately run the world.
Yet 85 per cent of jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist today. The development of technology, especially AI, should do the exact opposite of what people fear it will. AI alone will help to develop approximately 21 million jobs in the future.
We are not likely to have children taught entirely by robots in the near future. AI developments are simply tools to help our teachers educate the younger generations, to prepare them for the world, and to tackle some of the big issues that we face as a species.
While the times we live in may be uncertain and unstable, Ben Page of Ipsos MORI has a poignant reminder: “Our cultures all over the world, both human cultures and institutions, are a bit more resilient than we think.”