A Vision of AI for Joyful Education
Here’s how we can avert the dangers and maximize the benefits of this powerful but still emerging technology

In a 2013 post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sketched out a “rough plan” to provide free, basic internet to the world and thus spread opportunity and interconnection. However, the United Nations Human Rights Council reported that, in Myanmar, Facebook’s efforts to follow through on such aspirations accelerated hate speech, fomented division, and incited offline violence in the Rohingya genocide. Free, basic internet now serves as a warning of the complexities of technological impact on society. For Chris, an AI researcher in education, and Lisa, a science educator and student of international cyber policy, this example gives pause: What unintended consequences could AI in education have?

Many look to AI-powered tools to address the need to scale high-quality education and with good reason. A surge in educational content from online courses, expanded access to digital devices, and the contemporary renaissance in AI seem to provide the pieces necessary to deliver personalized learning at scale. However, technology has a poor track record for solving social issues without creating unintended harm. What negative effects can we predict, and how can we refine the objectives of AI researchers to account for such unintended consequences?

For decades the holy grail of AI for education has been the creation of an autonomous tutor: an algorithm that can monitor students’ progress, understand what they know and what motivates them, and provide an optimal, adaptive learning experience. With access to an autonomous tutor, students can learn from home, anywhere in the world. However, autonomous tutors of 2020 look quite different from this ideal. Education with auto-tutors usually engages students with problems designed to be easy for the algorithm to interpret—as opposed to joyful for the learner.

Current algorithms can’t read motivation, and are far from engendering long-term learning gains, instead focusing on engaging students for the short term. The technical challenges are enormous: building the ideal auto-tutor could be as hard as reaching true general AI. The research community has seen this as a challenge: we simply need to overcome our technical shortcomings to achieve the utopian dream.

But is the auto-tutor utopia a dream worth building toward? We offer some dangers that arise from use of artificially intelligent systems such as auto-tutors and call for research into approaches that harness the potential good from application of AI in education, while mitigating the risks. We believe our vision of thoughtfully developed AI systems working in tandem with naturally intelligent humans can support a broad community of learners around the world.


1. Undermining socioemotional connections and skills. Students go to school for many reasons outside of rote knowledge acquisition, including development of socioemotional skills, human mentorship and human community. For all the potential inadequacies of human teachers and traditional classes, displacing these structures has costs. Many of us remember learning from teachers whose mentorship and guidance extended far beyond the subject they were charged with teaching. Might AI displace these interactions?

Furthermore, loneliness is on the rise, with younger generations lonelier than older generations. One study found a relationship between depression among adolescents and screen time, compared to youth who spent time on offscreen activities such as in-person social interactions, sports or homework. Decreased screen time could lead to significant gains in empathy levels. As UNESCO considers reorienting goals of education to emphasize development of socioemotional competencies that allow for peaceful and sustainable societies, compelling children toward screens may undermine those goals.

Source : https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/a-vision-of-ai-for-joyful-education/

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