Rise of the robot teacher - Will AI replace humans in education?

Breeze - Education Uncontained

In our last blog article we looked at the many ways in which AI is already having a big impact in education – from how AI is guiding course choices to providing essential student support; we also looked to the future of AI, discovering that this technology could truly revolutionise the ways in which students learn – from the merging in with virtual reality to picking up upon the emotions and current states of each child.

However the one question that remained largely unanswered was whether AI could ever replace humans within education – and whilst we argued that tomorrow’s world of schooling would present a place for both AI and the traditional teacher, to what extent we were uncertain, so let’s dig in to this a little further...

AI and humanity: A technology not to be feared

Stephen Hawking freaked out half of the world when he predicted that AI would bring about the end of humanity; and we’ve all seen our fair share of Sci-Fi movies where we teeter upon the edge of just such a situation. Yet whilst the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ strikes up images within many people’s minds of Will Smith doing battel with AI, in the real world it is often AI who is hailed the hero.

Take Eve, for example, she beavered away within the University of Manchester’s Automation Lab until she’d discovered the key enzyme that lay behind the majority of Malaria cases – helping her human counterparts to more quickly develop lifesaving drugs. Equally there has been robotic saints within special education, too, with computer scientists harnessing social technologies to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

It then seems that when harnessed correctly AI is achieving incredible things – things that are changing the world for the better and achievements that save lives. There is then no question about whether AI could advance to such a stage where a robot will be able to replicate humans, and what’s more they may be able to do so for the better of humanity.

The first question is when this will be achieved; and the second question is whether we’ll choose to replace the traditional teacher with a mass of wires, bytes and components.

The ‘trouble’ with traditional teaching

Central to the debate of AI in education, and the trouble with traditional teaching in relation, is the ongoing costs. Education is a realm that is defined by profit and loss, and robots may well provide for a savvy answer for salaries that are cut from the balance books. What’s more when looked at from purely a business perspective we must consider the soft costs that surround human placements year after year – time off, training, long term sickness and paternity and maternity leave, each represent a dent within the wallet of the traditional institution. Each of which are off the table when it comes to Mr Android.

The robot teacher then sure does look like an attractive proposition, especially since few disagree that the ‘perfect’ AI machine will exist one day – one that goes beyond the narrow tasks that are defining AI within education today.

The future may be defined by the finance department

The balance between AI use and the role of the human teacher will be defined by a question of economics – and whilst businesses quite simply move toward automation for a better ROI, educators may adopt a far more balanced approach.

What’s more AI is certainly not to be feared, and when harnessed in the right way the average classroom will become smart and more effective, with students’ lives enriched – yet the impact of AI uptake within any industry is not to be taken lightly. We’ve already seen entire workforces wiped out by an uprising of robots within manufacturing –something that was not previously ever foreseen. To this end educators must balance the books whilst also balancing a future for human teachers and all that they can bring to the classroom – even with the future of AI realised.

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