2045 will be the year collective machine intelligence surpasses humans, according to futurist Ray Kurzweil. An evolution named by some as the singularity. But beyond the countless predictions lie challenges and opportunities for education.At the recent Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Harry Patrinos, education manager at the World Bank spoke on how automation in the workplace will impact learning quality and the skills children require. He noted that while industry was entering a fourth industrial revolution, education was stuck in first gear.“This is an exciting time, but the sobering news is that most education systems are not prepared for what’s ahead of us. Industry is moving forward but education is slow to catch up. The race is being led by technology and we need to arm our educators for any real and sustainable change. Amidst this future proofing needs to be a focus on early childhood learning, reading is still the basic foundation of skill.”
Robotics in disguise
Yao Zhang, CEO and co-founder of Roboterra, a US robotics education company based in Silicon Valley, California, passionately spoke on the use of robotics in learning. Roboterra distributes robotics kits to 10-18 year olds in schools to empower young makers to build and program their own robots and develop their design skills through an innovative online learning platform.
Zhang is a firm believer that robotics allows students to engineer, code and apply design principles to seek creative solutions to problems in a more collaborative way.
There are potential benefits for teachers too. Roughly 80 per cent of a teacher’s time is spent on administration and transferring knowledge and only around 20 per cent on emotional development. Zhang argues AI can help evaluate school students more effectively and will let teachers focus on what many enjoy most – relationship building and the emotionally rewarding side of their role.
Trials to assess how children learn and if they can do so more effectively with AI assistance have been conducted to some degree by Pearson and University College London. Princeton University, USA, recently told McKinsey & Company it will be using MRI scans next semester on students to trial AI and understand how they learn.
Princeton will look at how many times a student views a portion of a lecture, how quickly they understand a concept and what parts of learning they struggle with. These findings could create more personalised learning that helps individuals learn quicker.
A near impossible task for teachers to achieve for every child at scale.But there are some academics that warn customised or personalised learning could widen inequalities. Also, that the wider introduction of AI may lead to children learning in less social classrooms – either remotely or in smaller, specialised centres depending on their level. Instilling a reliance on technology so early could also have its downfall if or when these technologies fail.
The global business value derived from AI is expected to hit US$3.9 trillion by 2022, according to the latest forecast by Gartner. The US, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, France and even the UAE are all at the frontier – the latter having recently set up their own ministry of AI.China has been full steam ahead with its use of robots in classrooms as teaching assistants and learning aids. Earlier this month, the country announced its very first AI textbook for secondary schools after China’s State Council called for the inclusion of AI in primary and secondary education. Japan has also started to use AI robots to teach English across its private schools.
“AI is gradually reshaping everything in our world through algorithms and will bring about deep, connected, adaptive and immersive learning but it will also force us to revisit the learning paradigm and how it works,” adds Zhang. “The fact is humans will be on mars in 2030. That is something we have to bear in mind when we are teaching our 15 year olds.
This means there will be new telecommunications jobs, transportation management roles, data analytics jobs and product design jobs in an interplanetary era. A time that none of us have ever lived in. We can’t begin to imagine or even predict all the new jobs that will be created from the knowledge spill.” Zhang is not alone.
Her views have been echoed by industry too, as AI is being introduced not merely to enhance production or solve operational issues but to create entirely new markets.“As the business environment pace of change accelerates, it is no longer the strongest businesses that survive and thrive – but rather the ones that adapt. Above all, digital innovation needs to be at the core of companies’ business models,” says Kevin Frewin, director, Global Workforce Deloitte.
With digital transformation happening at breakneck speed, the next huge challenge will most definitely be regulation. “I agree with the opinion that we are in an era where big data is the new crude oil and that AI could have the impact of electricity. We either become AI or become controlled by it,” – such a powerful transition in the way we work and educate people needs guidelines, argues Zhang.To that end, there have been various policy initiatives led by academics to assess the risks associated with AI and robotics use. Though Zhang suggests that policy leaders are still yet to agree and identify all the risks associated with it, let alone set out a universal guideline.
Blockchain, workplace and beyond
While Patrinos was undecided of the impact of AI and robotics on humanity, he highlighted the urgency to adapt and AI’s most promising possibilities to be for lifelong learning and certification.He cited blockchain, that could allow people to digitally manage their academic and professional credentials in a transparent, secure and universal way to reduce fraud, and open badges that let you hold and share your achievements anytime, anywhere.“The certification of learning is a big win if it can be scaled up and the many pilots to help personalise learning offer some really exciting potential,” added Patrinos.
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