Education Entrepreneur Sees AI and Human History at a Crossroads
Enver Yucel is the founder of BAU Global, a broad education network headquartered in Turkey, consisting of five universities, three language schools, four academic centers and one boarding school spread across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Yucel has devoted his life to education, having served an estimated 150,000 students since starting his first institution with three class rooms in Istanbul in 1974. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the UN Institute for Training and Research. He was invited to speak at the AI World Conference & Expo in Boston in the fall of 2019, the first Turkish speaker in the four years of the conference. He recently took some time to answer questions posed by AI Trends Editor John P Desmond, who was in the audience for his Boston talk.
(Ed. Note: He delivered his address in Boston in Turkish, and a translator repeated it in English. This interview was conducted via email with Enver and his team answering questions we posed based on his talk in Boston, in Turkish, then translating them for us into English. We received the interview in early February 2020.)
AI Trends: Where does artificial intelligence fit in the historical context? (foundation of the universe, birth of life, beginning of artificial intelligence)
Yucel: Steam, electricity and computers … The inventions discovered in every industrial revolution have been used in all areas of life, in all sectors, all over the world. Transportation, production, agriculture, health and education…It is a stubborn fact that artificial intelligence has created a similar effect and will continue to do so. It is possible to see Artificial Intelligence applications in all areas of our life and in every sector. Artificial Intelligence supported systems; decide whether we can get a bank loan or not, and our waiting time when we order food to home; they draw a route on how to deliver it not only for the shortest but also for the easiest distance, conduct identification in the security field and even estimation who can pose a danger and enable unmanned vehicles to decide. That is to say, just as electricity transformed all sectors a century ago, now artificial intelligence does the same and enables the age to keep up with it.
Enver Yücel, president of BAU Global and member of the Advisory Board of the UN Institute for Training and Research
According to some scientists it is the new electricity of the twenty-first century; according to others it is the birth of new hominid line. Whatever you call it, I can say that artificial intelligence and human history are at a crossroads and we will witness much more important changes in the coming years.
How can artificial intelligence be applied in the field of education?
The use of Artificial Intelligence in the field of education comes into question in many areas such as passing automation from administrative processes in schools to exam evaluations of teachers, preparation of the course contents clear-headedly, providing personalized education, providing education independent from time and place.
In addition to office automation in administrative processes in schools, thousands of applications can be automatically evaluated by artificial intelligence systems in matriculation transactions. Teachers can spend much more time with students by leaving their exams, homework evaluations, and feedback to the application of artificial intelligence. As we have been defending for decades, all education and learning models are specific to a person. A separate content and model can be determined for each student to provide student-based education. Student’s deficiencies are determined; accordingly, a lesson plan and content can be prepared appropriate for their deficiencies with much more detailed analysis except for orientation specific to course and subject.
What we have been defending in education from of old is while some students in the classroom are looking for total silence in the study environment, some provide concentration by listening to the latest music. From this point of view, thanks to virtual reality and the mixed reality environments that have emerged recently, those who wish can receive education in the way they want and wherever they want. Today, anyone can take online video lectures from the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. Why does not the student take this lesson interactively with the teacher’s hologram in his room? If technology makes this possible, why should education not keep up with it?
While today’s technology is developing accordingly, it is unacceptable that education continues with old methods. In order to catch up with the age, we must keep up with these changes, and even be pioneers. If a generation that no longer uses a computer and believes that it can handle everything with its mobile device is catching up, it is unacceptable to try to adapt this generation to the existing system; the system should embrace the needs of this generation.
What are the three most important issues facing humanity? (Ethics/values, inequality, poverty)
Poverty, inequality of income, environment and ethical values, culture of coexistence. We cannot live together. Secondly, we pollute the environment and the ethical world, and thirdly, we cannot live together. These 3 main fundamentals are the problems of the world.
What is Bau’s education mission?
Bahçeşehir University is a foundation university that aims to develop research and development for production, protection and dissemination of information that will raise the living standards of humanity; to raise critical, creative and entrepreneurial people who can carry out pioneering and innovative initiatives and studies which will increase the prosperity and happiness of Turkey and people of the world; to contribute to the problems faced by our people, government, industry and non-governmental organizations with creative solutions. BAU is a university that has adopted internationalization and acts with the vision of raising transnational global citizens.
What distinguishes BAU from other programs providing AI education?
Artificial Intelligence is one of the primary fields of our university. We attach importance to this issue both in terms of education and research. In our Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences, in addition to our many courses related to Artificial Intelligence at the undergraduate and graduate levels, “Artificial Intelligence for All” course is provided to all faculties in order to increase the awareness of artificial intelligence in our university. This course is open to all students, from our faculty of law to our faculty of communication. As of next year, we have plans to open an Artificial Intelligence program within our Computer and Software Engineering Departments and to accept students to these programs.
At the graduate level, we have applied for an Artificial Intelligence master program. In addition, we have been conducting Big Data, Cyber Security and Industry 4.0 graduate programs, perhaps the first in our country, in our Institute of Science for the last 4-5 years.
In terms of research, I can give an example of our Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Education and Research Centre, which we have established with the funds of Istanbul Development Agency, as well as national and internationally supported projects currently carried out by our faculty members. Through this centre, short-term training is given in line with the needs of the sector, and joint projects are carried out with different companies through our university-industry cooperation model.
Can you tell us which artificial intelligence technologies you use in your training presentation?
Big data analyses based applications are used in our institutions for years, especially in measurement and evaluation. However, I would like to tell you about our Metodbox Distance Education Platform, which we have launched in the past months and have introduced at the world’s largest training technologies fair last week.
The Metodbox Artificial Intelligence application is used in Bahcesehir Colleges and Ugur Schools in order to provide personalized education to our students. The Metodbox platform is a digital guide. The most important difference from its counterparts is that the student can follow what he can learn, and what the teacher can teach in this system, and they can develop themselves. The teacher can gather those, who know a subject the best, and can direct them to a higher level and students can continue their education on the subject with the difficulty they want. It is possible with the artificial intelligence-supported program that the teacher can make special procedures for the whole class or for every student in the class in the fields of exam preparation and reading the result, determining the subject of the lesson.
Which institutions or alternative programs for artificial intelligence education have you completed?
As a part of my profession and vision, I spend almost half of the year studying programs and institutions using the latest technology abroad. The seminars and briefings I received at the highest level in every institution I visit are training for me in a sense. In other words; I personally visit the most important centers of the world on site and receive training directly in the field.
How does your system support teachers?
Our primary goal is to increase the awareness of artificial intelligence of all our employees in our institutions and to ensure the use of the latest educational technologies in all of our training processes. In this sense, under the leadership of our university, all of our teachers in Bahçeşehir Colleges and Uğur Schools are provided with on-the-job training and their participation in external seminars is supported. For example, at the ‘Artificial Intelligence Conference in K12’ we will organize on February 10, panels, seminars and promotions will be held to teach our school principals about K12-level Artificial Intelligence with Artificial Intelligence.
Do you see potential dangers in the future of artificial intelligence? What kind of warnings do you have for taking measure?
The questions “Will the robots beat us? “Will they invade the world?” are continuously engaging people’s attention. At this point, perhaps the most important matter to be worried about is the “conscience” and “ethical” attribution to be made on artificial intelligence. The matters which are objective and will be accepted by everyone are absolutely available but how will subjective approaches be handled?
I think optimistically about this matter. There is no need to be afraid of Artificial Intelligence, it is in our hands to embrace it in an ethical framework and develop and use it in such a way that it will serve humanity. For this purpose, priority should be given to Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence studies, and Artificial Intelligence systems that learn from and collaborate with people should be developed.
I also think that research and discussions on Artificial Intelligence Ethics should be done in different platforms along with the academic world. Both the developed technologies should be ethical in terms of content and the studies on the R&D and ethical execution of the production process should be increased. However, I believe that politicians should be guided on the subject of legal regulations.