The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence teaching the next generation of children

Ryan Erickson

The world is changing faster than you and I can see. AI is here, navigating our day already. But are we ready to let it take over the most critical point in life today- teaching our children?

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Photo by Jackson So on Unsplash

Our everyday existence is rife with the use of AI, much without any of us even knowing it. The most prominent use of AI you’ll undoubtedly use throughout your day is a search engine. 

It used to be that Yahoo!, AltaVista, and Google would crawl the web, make a list of sites to match a search term, and when you searched for “cats,” you get cats. So if you and I searched cats simultaneously- back in the day- we would likely see the same results. 

Enter augmented artificial intelligence into the mix, and without you knowing it, our search engines know us better than you think. For example, suppose you were to search “cats” today. In that case, services will (in a nutshell) quickly merge everything you’ve looked at on the web (cookies be damned!) over the last several hours, your location data, etc. and give you almost exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for: photos of a calico cat with a black right paw.

You’ve no doubt seen it (AI) in action- you swore Facebook or TicToc was listening to you. Well, that’s debatable, but they’re probably not listening to the average person’s conversations. Their AI is just that good. 

Today, more than ever, we’re on the verge of witnessing a shift in how we, or moreover (y)our children, will interact with AI. The world has already seen autonomy in limited warfare scenarios, trading stocks, self-driving cars, and chess-specific computers. 

However, as AI programming seemingly gives the persona of a learning machine- something that could learn empathy- more interaction with humans is inevitable. 

That stated, I offer you this excerpt on the subject from The Age of AI by Henry A Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher;

Although Al can draw conclusions, make predictions, and make decisions, it does not possess self-awareness in other words, the ability to reflect on its role in the world. It does not have intention, motivation, morality, or emotion; even without these attributes, it is likely to develop different and unintended means of achieving assigned objectives. But inevitably, it will change humans and the environments in which they live. When individuals grow up or train with it, they may be tempted, even subconsciously, to anthropomorphize it and treat it as a fellow being.

This brings us back to the inevitability of children being taught via an artificial teacher. The research firm McKinsey & Co. published an interesting report on how AI could aid teachers today and soon. I then asked my wife what she thought if, say next year, she was given a chance to have our son, who’s going into the fifth grade, be taught by an AI teacher? 

“No.”

For context, she’s homeschooled our children for the past seven years. She adds, “I think it would be neat to augment his learning just for the experience, but a computer couldn’t tell if it was going to be an on-day or off-day. Some days require a different approach.”

The emotion needed to teach, especially young children, is not something that can be taught to a computer regardless of how well it’s programmed (today). But I venture to guess it’s coming. 

Ryan’s PRO AI List

It can’t all be bad. Here’s where the positive aspects of an AI teacher come into play.

  • Assuming no means to alter history, an AI teacher/teaching platform would be able to correctly* state history.
  • The ability to teach children at different levels would come with ease. Many teachers love to have the most intelligent children in their classes. However, unless they can get them tested and into an accelerated program, they’re generally stuck teaching to the slowest learner, thus not able to nurture the faster ones.
  • Adding to the first bullet point, an AI teacher would be able to limit personal opinions (maybe not those of the creators, however); there would be no mistake of who the 46th US President is, where a specific town/city is, etc. 
  • And most importantly, to gauge the student’s interest in a subject (as noted in the McKinsey & Co. above).

Ryan’s CON AI List

  • The main “con” I have is that no system would be perfect. As noted above, there will always be those who want to teach something other than facts. And yes, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but let the kids make their own choices based on facts when it comes to teaching.
  • An inability to be human.

Do you have any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what you have to say on AI, the future, and our children.

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* This is subjective (isn’t it all), of course, as every state has groups who’d like to have history written one way as opposed to another.

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An Agilistic Practitioner of Project & Program Management with proven military & civilian records of success; PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSM | Let's solve problems, together.

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