Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Schools

20th-Apr-2018

"As children we studied and imagined a future with robots, and fascinating things that could appear and disappear at the touch of a button. Today, we already live that 'future'. The Sci-Fi of yesterday is the reality of 'Now'."

Even as we contemplate on the subject of Artificial Intelligence, it has already seeped into our lives and our work, seamlessly and we would find ourselves helpless if it stopped existing. Your smartphones, Google search, GPS, online shopping, predictive video games and online classrooms which don't need teachers are all present in our hands and around us.

Tesla cars are designed to move on auto-pilot and Siri, a simulated human voice is a designed to answer queries while literally living inside your phone. Why go far? India's Tata cars are assembled with robotic technology, and even Mercedes Benz has its factory in Pune, India.

At any given moment, in different parts of the world, there are researchers and scientists developing super-human technology that will think faster, more accurately and perform much more than a human being.

Pause for a moment and let us travel back in time - to ancient India - where education was imparted in the 'Gurukul' tradition. A child who came of age was sent to the 'Guru', i.e the teacher. to live with him and learn, while serving the teacher. These were lessons of life alongside knowledge building. The Guru was revered above the parents, and would decide how, how much and when to teach a child a specific subject.

In the Gurukul system, it was not uncommon for students to cook, clean or perform household duties for the teachers. In fact, it was the way they learnt service as well as humility.

If a student made a mistake, the teacher would patiently explain the topic all over again, but in a simpler way.

If a student misbehaved or acted inappropriately, the teacher would decide his / her punishment.

If a child was lonely or sad, the teacher became the parent who soothed and comforted him.

There was a culture of complete humility and absolute obedience that the student offered in return for the vast sums of knowledge received. A student was known by his / her teacher's reference. Who can forget that Guru Dronacharya was the teacher of both, the Pandavas and the Kauravas?

A few hundred years later, while it was no longer mandatory to stay at the Guru's ashram, the role of the teacher continued to be the same.

Each of us can recall at least one teacher who made a huge impact on us and is responsible for the kind of people we are turning out to be. It could be our first teacher in kindergarten, or a music teacher who has made us fall in love with the violin.

This is a human connection that goes beyond clicking our fingertips on the screen as we go through an obstacle maze. A guiding figure who teaches us to discern between right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate.

We are already the future that people dreamt of yesterday. Today, a child in a remote village in any third world country can access classrooms and courses as long as there is electricity and a computer.

It is not far from the day when all students will learn with the help of artificial intelligence and have access to much more than auto-pilot cars, simulated humans and who knows, probably even a time machine. It is an absolute possibility that each child will have his / her classroom within their home itself, with only virtual classmates and friends. But will we really be better off without a human connection in the classroom?