Archive for the 'technology' Category

ARE ROBOT TEACHERS INEVITABLE?

Robot copyIn early May 2016, 300 Georgia Tech students discovered that their teacher aide, Jill Watson, was not a real person. In fact, ‘she’ was a robot that had been capably supporting them via online voice recognition software all through the semester. Rather aptly, it was an online course on artificial intelligence. Most of the students were simply amused by this admission. Others were not as happy, given that there had been no disclosure of the non-human nature of their online helper. But it gets you wondering, doesn’t it? Where is the limit on the robot support that could be offered to school students?

Mattel’s latest Hello Barbie is another case in point. This interactive doll can listen to a child’s conversation, and then provide a contextual comment from the 8000 different responses in its memory bank. In just a few years from now, similar devices (that hopefully don’t look like Barbie) could be programmed to provide explicit learning support for each student.

Are there any concerns with these devices? There are many. All conversations are being stored in the Cloud, so there are some ominous privacy questions to be considered here. And at what point do these robots adopt a cyber-ethical stance on various issues? Would we ever want children to develop their values from a non-human entity?

Artificial intelligence has well and truly arrived in our everyday lives. The contentious issues are significant…. but then, so are the benefits. These assistants will release us from many tedious tasks in our personal and professional lives. Data processing, learning analytics and rapid online searching are just some of the advantages of these innovations. But here is one of the most pertinent questions of all: Will robots partly replace adults who work in schools?

Well… this process has already occurred for hundreds of years in other professions. Ever since the Industrial Age, the work of millions of people has been supplanted by machinery. Admittedly, it has not been on a scale that is likely in the pending future. In ‘The Rise Of The Robots’, Martin Ford maintains that around 40% of all employees around the world will see significant restructuring or even loss of their daily work within the next decade.

Does this mean that we will see higher unemployment? Not necessarily. According to futurist Thomas Frey, many all-new occupations will become more commonplace eg crypto-currency bankers, augmented reality architects, driverless machine engineers. For schools, US-based education forecasters KnowledgeWorks conjecture about roles such as competency trackers, data stewards, micro-credential analysts and pop-up reality producers.

The dilemma with all of this astonishing new work? There is a wide gap between many people’s present skills, and the new skills they will need for these advanced roles. A part-result? We will always be learning and updating our professional skills. Andragogy (the art and science of adult learning) will become as important in schools as the child version (ie pedagogy). This andragogy will be continuous, evidence-based and results-driven. As well as full degrees, emphasis will be placed on micro-credentialling in order to support time-poor educators.

Regardless of the efforts we each make, is it still possible that robots will take over our jobs? Well… when it comes to the future, you can never say ‘never’. However, I find it difficult to believe that society will accept everyone being replaced by robots. If someone is not receiving a wage, then they won’t be paying taxes. It’s difficult to see our politicians accepting that state of affairs. Perhaps even more importantly, if no-one is actively working, then what will they do with their time every day?

Here’s one thing we can probably guarantee: The long-term structure of work will change forever. A single full-time one-job-for-life will become a rarity. In any case, most Under-30s shudder at the thought of remaining in one work position for 40 or more years. We may need to keep this in mind as we prepare young people for this future world of work. But what about us right now? For those adults who work with students, and who want to keep their job, what can be done about these changing work patterns? Here are two compelling options.

Point 1. Keep Learning. Education in itself is obviously about helping young people to learn. But it needs to be equally so for the adults who work in the field. The reality? It is hypocritical to be employed in the education profession, and yet not be prepared to learn and develop your self. Thankfully, the vast majority of educators are obsessed about their own learning. In the next ten years, they will need to be. ICT and improved pedagogy are not passing fads; they are here to stay, and will progress rapidly. But is this obsession with technology leading to a loss of our very humanity? Let’s look at Option 2.

2. Generate Empathy. Why focus on empathy? Basically, because robots cannot provide it. Robots do not have soul. They never will. I don’t care what the futurists say about the pending age of spiritual machines. These robots will always be artificial constructs that are developed to mimic human behavior. So what do we need to do as authentic humans? Here’s one obvious answer: Explore and deepen our empathic connection with others. Refine our social capacity and respect for different cultures and beliefs (are you listening, Donald Trump?). Empathy will become the critical 21st century skill. If you want to stay employed in education, look for every way possible to further refine your empathic support for children. They need it; and it help you to do your work more effectively.

A final thought? The application of technology in education is delicately balanced between Choice and Chance. Choice is when we design our preferred futures, then backward map to the present time, and steadily work on creating those futures. Chance is when we abrogate all responsibility for developing what is up ahead, and simply concede to outside forces that inflict our future on us. Can we stop the rise of the artificial intelligence world? No we can’t. Can we choose how to take advantage of this astonishing new world? Yes we can, with learning and empathy. Are you ready to play your part?

Brain Computer Interfaces

BrainJust imagine: Merely by thinking about it, teachers could control what appears on a projector screen in a classroom over 10,000 km away, with their voices then giving further support to the students in that same room.

Sound a little far-fetched? On the contrary, the technology already exists. Brain-Computer Interfaces are now well-advanced, and promise to deliver some astonishing options in learning and life over the next decade.

Brain Computer Interfaces? Sometimes referred to as BCIs, they are technologies that allow your thinking to control and even re-create your physical environment. BCIs will challenge us to seriously rethink how we teach students the complex skill of thinking, and the purposes to which they will apply those skills.

Much of this technology has actually been around for several years, but it’s all about to go mainstream. Here are some examples for you:

  • What if your thinking alone could move a wheelchair? They already do. http://bit.ly/GODmp7
  • Or perhaps you’d like to fly a drone with thought control, and from anywhere on the planet too. Well, you now can. http://bit.ly/YrYryi
  • Perhaps you’re prepared to drive your car with your thoughts alone. A scary thought, given that some people can’t even do it properly in the normal way. http://bbc.in/1qbo16e
  • Gesture-based computing and voice activation systems can adjust what happens on our screens. But what if you could make changes on your computer screen by simply thinking about them? The product already exists. http://www.emotiv.com/epoc.php
  • What if we could even bridge the divide between the physical and virtual worlds eg by drawing with a pen, and reaching inside your computer screen to do so? This TED talk is worth a quick look. http://bit.ly/1tgWI9r
  • By scanning your brain, researchers can determine what you’ve read. http://bit.ly/1aJuWMg
  • In limited ways, scientists can already tap into your memory. In this example, they can reconstruct an image of faces that you have seen. http://cnet.co/1o7Ro31
  • Want to push a few limits here? Within 30 years, we may be able to supercharge the brain for learning, and for many other everyday functions as well. http://2045.com/news/33213.html
  • Or what about the option of even upgrading your brain? This will be a serious option in the lifetime of your students.  http://bit.ly/1sPaqA4

Some further options? The mobile / cell phone is probably the quintessential modern piece of technology, and its refinements in the next decade will reflect these neuro-advances.

The I-Phone 21 may become a form of wearable headware that can transmit some of your thoughts to another I-Phone 21. The I-Phone 25 may even be a surgically implanted neural device that will enable you to do the same thing.

What does this mean for our everyday lives?

In such a world, your thinking capacity will become more vital than ever before. Not only will you need to think critically and creatively, you’ll also need to synch yourself with your meta-tech devices.

TV quiz shows that adulate those with prodigious factual memory will be supplanted by online shows in which the contestants will compete via control of specific devices eg robots or drones.

The thinking of the players will increasingly control computer games. World-wide NeuroGame competitions will be watched by millions of adoring fans. The 2040 Olympic Games may even feature the 1st ever gold medal won solely with one’s thinking.

What can teachers do in this pending Neuro Age?

Intriguingly enough, some core pedagogical concepts will stay in vogue. As much as ever before, students will need to learn how to focus on a specific task. Mindfulness practices will become even more important than ever.

Over the past decade, multi-tasking unfortunately became fashionable with our students. This will thankfully change, because BCIs will require the user to focus very specifically on the single task at hand (or mind).

The concept of old-fashioned examinations that focus on memory retention may become superfluous. If Smart Drugs or brain augmentations are commonplace, then ‘cheating’ will take on a whole new meaning.

What will you need to do in everyday teaching? Here are some practical options:

  • Introduce daily sessions of mindfulness training. Most effective learning experiences are enhanced by a few moments of initial relaxation.
  • Show children how to self-talk. Write up some words such as “This is a great school”, and then ask them to think those words in their head without speaking. They need to silently think the words at normal speaking speed. Then encourage them to use this self-talk when they are thinking through the process for a task.
  • Develop awareness in children that these brain-controlled options will soon exist. Show them the links in this article. Be very upfront about it. Get into ‘futures’ with your class/es. Join the World Future Society. It’s cheap; and they have lots of great resources.
  • With everyday learning, integrate some explicit thinking strategies eg the Thinkers Keys (yes, this is a shameless plug. I wrote them). They will then have the skills for navigating their thinking through this upcoming amazing world.
  • Keep up with neuroscience research. In recent years, two massive projects have accelerated our understanding of the human brain. The US version is called The BRAIN Initiative and will develop even more complex and revolutionary pictures of the brain’s functions. Europe’s Human Brain Project has been exploring the edges of our neuroscience understandings for the past two years.

And what about you?

  • Keep your own brain as active as possible. Some of the key beneficial activities? Physical exercise (yes, it’s probably the most powerful possible support for brain functioning); reading that challenges and stimulates; creative pursuits; all-new learning experiences.
  • Practise stream-of-consciousness brainstorming. Decide upon a question or an issue, and then spend at least 10 mins generating continuous responses. No pauses are allowed. Keep the flow going.
  • Use voice activation systems on your computer or device. Close your eyes, and talk steadily. Later on, open your eyes, and only then read what you have recorded.
  • Learn how to quickly collate the latest research and practice in your specialist field. This is the best time in human history for instantly finding out what you need. Use worthwhile tools that help you to do so.

Are there any limits to this NeuroAge? Probably not. I could conjecture on the most unbelievable possibilities for you; and I may still not even scratch the surface of your scalp. We will all need to accept this pending Age of Uncertainty, in which there will be an exponential rush of advancing technologies such as these BCIs.

Are there some concerns about these neuro devices? Of course there are. All through human history, there have been good and poor consequences for most new discoveries. We will need to ask questions such as: Is the use of these devices ethical and responsible? Will it make the world a better place for all?

One of the greatest benefits? As educators, we love to explore the astonishing capacity of the human mind, and these BCIs will certainly provide some challenging opportunities to do so. What do you think?!