Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Robot Overlords Due in Decade

This piece is from last year, but it's a reminder of just how bone-numbing stupid some education "experts" are. Sir Anthony Seldon is a vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, and the author of over 35 books about history, politics and education. He's a big-time teacher and commentator on education in Britain, and yet here he is saying things like this:

Robots will begin replacing teachers in the classroom within the next ten years as part of a revolution in one-to-one learning

Programmes currently developed in Silicon Valley will learn to read the brains and facial expressions of pupils, adapting the method of communication to what works best for them.

It will open up the possibility of an Eton or Wellignton-style education for all.

Will it? Will it really. Will we be reading news from Eton in 2027 in which they announce that they are closing their doors because students prefer learning from a computer terminal to learning from the distinguished human scholars of Eton. Will students from the very best families be abandoning private education with their peers because they would rather sit at a computer in isolation?

Because I don't think that's going to happen.

Everyone can have the very best teacher and it's completely personalized; the software you're working with will be with you throughout your educational journey.

Seriously? Because that would be eighteen years, give or take a bit. Raise your hand right now if you are using any piece of software that you were using eighteen years ago. Nobody? That's what I thought.

Teachers would be replaced with human "overseers" who would monitor progress of pupils (the one thing I think software could actually do), leading non-academic activities (what, no robot football coach?) and-- my favorite-- providing pastoral support. You mean religious activities can't be programmed into software?

But Seldon insists that "inspiration" for intellectual excitement will come from "the lighting-up of the brain which the machines will be superbly well-geared for."

Sir Anthony is far too old to have such a childlike belief in computer software and far too well-educated to engage in such magical thinking, yet here we are, with Seldon coming out with a book this year that will lay out his whole fabulist vision of education. And he believes that this has already arrived on the west coast on the US, which would indicate that he's not all that well-informed on the subject of failed software-based schools that end up being beta-testers for low-scale algorithm-driven mass-produced edu-software.

For all the investor-baiting hype, there's still no sign that computers can do this, and no evidence that they should, and no support for the notion that it's what families would choose if they could. And "the children will be excited about it because it's on a computer" is the kind of thing that only someone over 60 (with no grandchildren) believes. Teaching machines remain one of the most long-standing failed dreams of education entrepreneurs. I don't believe that's going to change in the next ten years.

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