Artificial Intelligence: Will it Take Our Jobs or Enrich Our Lives?

It is a busy recruiting day for Mary who has seven positions to fill for her school. Recruiting new faculty and staff is time-consuming but crucial to the school’s future well-being. Thanks to a new range of tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI), however, Mary is working smarter, not harder, trimming her workload by 50 percent. Her HR bot is sorting résumés using an algorithm that assesses the best fit for position and culture, bringing together data from multiple sources to provide unbiased insights. Later, the bot will make follow-up calls to capture needed information from candidates and answer their questions. Once Mary confirms her top candidates, the bot will schedule interviews and continue to interface with candidates to ensure engagement.

HR is just one of the fields that AI is poised to disrupt—not by eliminating the HR professional’s job but by taking over time-consuming aspects of the job, freeing up the HR professional to concentrate on the more strategic aspects of talent management.

The Evolution of AI

AI, or the intelligence exhibited by machines and software, has been around for decades, but its capabilities have exploded in recent years due to exponential advances in computing power and the availability of big data. In a Newsweek article, “How Artificial Intelligence and Robots will Radically Transform the Economy,” author Kevin Maney says AI “will lead us into the mother of all tech revolutions.” He notes that, in history, the only time we have seen transformative power of this magnitude was around 1900, “when the automobile, telecommunications, the airplane and mass electrification all came together at once.”

There have already been many trials of AI in which it has bested humans at somewhat complex tasks, such as diagnosing medical images and researching case law. In one infamous experiment, IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer that combines AI and sophisticated analytical software, defeated top players on Jeopardy! (although it did miss the Final Jeopardy! question). AI is now being employed by many health care systems in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and it will continue to transform the practice of medicine in very promising ways. The most optimistic outlook for AI is that it will collaborate with humans to solve our most pressing problems, such as finding a cure for cancer or easing climate change, instead of eliminating jobs.

Will AI Transform Education?

Although it is hard to predict exactly how AI could transform education over time, there are already many forecasts on both near- and long-term impacts. In the next five years, AI will likely impact education the way that it has other fields, that is, eliminating routine but time-consuming tasks. This could range from record-keeping to grading papers, freeing teachers to spend more time on the social and emotional side of their work and offering more one-on-one coaching for students. Over the longer-term, the promise of AI is truly personalized learning. In an interview in Smithsonian Magazine, AI expert Joseph Qualls speculates on what he thinks is possible, noting that he believes the revolution will begin first in early childhood:

People have already heard about personalized medicine. That’s driven by AI. Well, the same sort of thing is going to happen with personalized education. I don’t think you’re going to see it as much at the university level. But [I do] see people starting to interact with AI when they’re very young. It could be in the form of a teddy bear that begins to build a profile of you, and that profile can help guide how you learn throughout your life. From the profile, the AI could help build a better educational experience. That’s really where I think this is going to go over the next 10 to 20 years.
Qualls also notes that he does not see education jobs for humans going away anytime soon. He predicts that, for at least the next 20 years, we will need humans to monitor both data and students. He does see an evolution in the role and needed skill sets for teachers, predicting that they will need to be “data scientists who understand the AI and can evaluate the data about how students are learning.”

An interesting early childhood education experiment to follow is the partnership between IBM and Sesame Workshop to create personalized learning tools for preschoolers. Their goal is to combine Sesame Workshop’s expertise on early-childhood development with IBM’s Watson AI capabilities to create “the next generation of tailored learning tools.” Currently, they have partnered with Gwinnett County Public Schools (GA) to test a cognitive, tablet-based, vocabulary learning app that can identify areas that require additional focus for each learner.

One of the more challenging forecasts about AI’s impact on education is whether it will shift who pays for education and where it will occur. Some theorize that the rise of personalized learning platforms will shift learning away from schools and place the responsibility in the hands of parents, who will take on the role of coaches, curators of knowledge, and guardians. With so many parents working today, it is hard to believe that this would be a welcome change.

In a blog titled “Artificial intelligence may transform education, but are parents ready?,” the authors note that technology will evolve far before we have the opportunity to deal with the social and ethical issues it may provoke. It is premature to do anything more than theorize as there are so many variables that could affect the way personalized learning evolves. Among other things, the authors point out that our society isn’t organized in a way that makes it convenient for parents to play the hands-on role that AI education may require. This leads to complex new decisions for parents and employers alike.

Employing AI for Social Good

Considering the potential for both positive and negative impacts on society, a number of for-profit and nonprofit companies and large technology giants have come together to form the Partnership on AI to “formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.” Its work focuses on seven thematic pillars: Safety-Critical AI; Fair, Transparent, and Accountable AI; Collaborations Between People and AI Systems; AI, Labor, and the Economy; Social and Societal Influences of AI; AI and Social Good; and Special Initiatives. Many believe that the formation of this partnership holds great promise for directing AI toward social good and ensuring that it does not enlarge the chasm between the haves and have-nots, which technology has fueled. Lacking a crystal ball, we’ll have to see how this evolves, but we’ll want to be at the table ensuring that student well-being is at the center of AI-powered education.

Many of you may be experimenting with AI at your schools today. Please share with the community so that we can advance our collective learning about the promise and perils of AI.
Donna Orem
Donna Orem

Donna Orem is NAIS President.


Miguel Marshall
02/27/2018 11:53 PM
Wonderful and relevant piece! I would add this text as a follow-up to the "Will AI Transform Education?" heading:

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