The classroom as we know it is about to be turned upside down. According to Bill Gates, within 18 months artificial intelligence will be advanced enough to teach our children to read and write.
Speaking at a major conference in San Diego, the Microsoft founder dropped a bombshell prediction: We are on the verge of a breakthrough in using AI chatbots to aid with writing and reading comprehension. This includes providing feedback on elements like textual clarity and essay structure, capabilities previously thought to be exclusively human.
“The AI’s will get to that ability, to be as good a tutor as any human ever could”, he said.
Let that sink in for a minute.
AI promises to provide low-cost personalized tutoring to millions of students who cannot afford human tutors. Unlike human tutors who cater only to the wealthy elite, AI has the potential to democratize high-quality education.
Gates is no stranger to predicting the promise of AI - over 20 years ago, he famously said that creating transformative AI would have a greater impact than 10 Microsoft-sized companies.
This all aligns with the famous 2013 research by Oxford scholars Frey and Osborne, who analyzed 702 professions to identify those most susceptible to automation. They ranked jobs based on their likelihood of being able to be performed by machines. Telephone salespeople and various clerical roles were deemed to be at highest risk of displacement. At the other end of the spectrum, with the lowest susceptibility to automation, were social workers, occupational therapists, and dentists.
When it comes to education specifically, the risk increases the older the students get. Younger children need human warmth, love, and basic learning above all - making their teachers automation-proof. As kids grow into teenagers, their academic learning becomes more important, even as they still need love and support. This is where AI can supplement and enhance education. The research bears this out: elementary school teachers rank very low on the list of professions likely to be automated, coming in at number 20 out of 702. By contrast, high school teachers rank much higher on the automation risk list, coming in at number 200 out of 702.
Our children will grow up bilingual in English and computer languages, learning collaboratively with AI tutors. To avoid being eclipsed by ever-advancing machines, students will need to vigorously develop their creativity, critical thinking, and humanity. Those who offer only logic, rationality and calculation risk being outmatched by the meticulous machines.
The time is now for education systems to nurture creative thinking and human-centric skills. The machines are coming - we best be prepared.