Thoughts On Ethical AI In Education

Sometimes in our life it seems as though certain topics or conversations can not be escaped. Some of this, no doubt, is situational – for example a year or so back I was looking to buy a new car and it seemed that everywhere I went I saw the same make and model of the car I was considering purchasing (perhaps not surprising – it was a Toyota after all!).

At other times, it seems certain topics almost become a type of zeitgeist and become almost inescapable. Of late, this has seemed to be Artificial Intelligence and it’s ever encroaching role into our lives – sometimes visibly, mostly invisibly built cleverly into apps and services that we don’t think twice about. Today I was introduced to the Intelligent Kiosk app from Microsoft (source code here), a sort of demonstration app designed to show the power of Cognitive Services. Here’s a couple of very short videos showing it in action that I made at home this evening:

Real time object recognition:

Real time crowd insights:

This type of technology has already been adopted and implemented into some Chinese classrooms, sparking equal parts excitement and concern about the implications of this. Have a read of the article here

Chinese Classroom

Facial and emotional recognition software on a group of Chinese students – Image Credit

Mr Jiang Xueqin, an expert in Chinese Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education was quoted as saying:

“Schools in the future, I think, are going to become these laboratories for mass experimentation on how to control and predict human behaviours,”

This is a perhaps a timely warning to be considered and for a measured approach to the implementation of AI in education to be adopted.

Related Technologies In the Field of AI:

You can read more about the above technologies here and I’ve written about ways in which AI is already being integrated into apps for classroom use here, and how devices like HoloLens enable the ‘revealing’ of otherwise invisible safety features here. Similarly, work has been done to assist the visually impaired with the Seeing AI app, truly a game changing application:

Forecast – Stormy Seas Ahead:

The increasing role and scope of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is often being labeled or likened to being “The 4th Industrial Revolution”, and just like with the earlier industrial revolutions, the fear that machines will take jobs away from workers is real and justified. I listened to the following interview between Dr Jordan Peterson and Dr Richard Haier on the topic of Neuroscience and Intelligence (I’ve cued up the video to the part I found most interesting, but if your browser doesn’t support it click to 13:35 in the video):

The entire interview is worth listening to but some key points that stood out for me included:

  • The US Armed Forces will not induct anyone with an IQ lower than 83 (on the rationale they’re difficult to train and become a danger to themselves and those around them).
  • The lowest 16% of the IQ Distribution equates to 51 million Americans (IQ of 90 or lower) and 13 million of those are school children
    • Dr Haier was quick to note that everyone has intrinsic worth and value, irrespective of their IQ scores, and Dr Peterson affirmed this saying that other desirable attributes such as courage, compassion and wisdom are not necessarily associated with IQ).
  • If you have an IQ of 90 or under there is real difficulty in reading a page of instructions and being able to comprehend it enough to translate that into required actions.

It’s increasingly difficult for people on the low end of the cognitive processing spectrum to survive – the jobs are simply just disappearing.

Dr Jordan Peterson

This quote from the interview really resonated with me as I’ve been having conversations with people of late describing how AI empowered automation is taking away what few factory jobs remain e.g. picking and choosing particular products and packaging them up for distribution. It is now cheaper and more accurate to build machines with AI to achieve this. Don’t believe me? Look at this Tweet showing a machine rapidly solving a “Where’s Wally” puzzle:

If workers can’t, or won’t for whatever reason, perform mundane jobs with sufficient accuracy and speed, it’s not hard to see how AI will automate these roles at an ever increasing rate.

Ethical AI:

ethical AI.PNG

Microsoft has developed the above framework to bring an ethical approach to the challenges thrown up by AI and you can read about this in full here. The reality is that educational institutes are grappling with these already. I was speaking to one such institute earlier this year who had invested considerably into advanced educational analytics to help predict failure rates and dropouts to drive student retention. When it came to implementing this with a pilot they realized they needed a control group to monitor against. This raised the very difficult question of:

What happens if someone is identified in the control group as likely to fail their course – in possession of this knowledge, should we simply stand aside and watch (in an effort to prove the validity of the pilot study), or are we compelled to intervene?

Given these sorts of ethical quandaries, it’s no surprise they decided to put the pilot study on hold until they had further examined the ramifications.

For some further reading on this topic, consider clicking through to here:

The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence & Its Role in Society

There is a free full PDF eBook of the same title that you can access here as well for deeper reading.

Big Questions For Society:

  • It’s easy for an individual company to justify the Return on Investment (ROI) of automating tasks with AI/ML and robotics – drive down costs, increase safety and boost profits – shareholders will love it! But what if all companies decide to do this and large portions of society become unemployable?
  • What is the knock on affect on educational institutes?
  • What does this mean for the skills / experiences we should be teaching our students?
  • How do we train the educators sufficiently to foster environments where students do learn the appropriate skills to be employable in the future?
  • What role does Emotional Intelligence (EQ) play in success in the workforce? IQ, whilst a very powerful predictor of workplace success, is not the only attribute most employers are seeking.
  • Does the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Framework become even more important?

I’m not expert enough to answer these questions but I can see that society as a whole, not just individual industries or sectors, will need to confront these in a humane, people-first approach.  This will ensure all of society is given the greatest opportunity to succeed in a rapidly changing future; one that is approaching closer and closer every day.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

%d bloggers like this: