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Artificial Intelligence and the Future

Building computers with human-like thinking capacity has been a dream of experts for more than 50 years. The term “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) was first coined in the mid-1950s. AI technology has begun to open up new opportunities in many areas, including health, education, energy and the environment. In October of 2016, the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology published a report titled: Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.

This report surveys the current state of AI, its existing and potential applications, and the related questions that are raised for society and public policy. The report also makes recommendations for specific further actions by federal agencies and other actors. One of the summary statements in the report makes a prediction about the future of AI:

Experts forecast that rapid progress in the field of specialized artificial intelligence will continue. Although it is very unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years, it is to be expected that machines will reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.

These new AI systems will test our conventional regulations and economic traditions. For example, automated vehicles, such as self-driving cars have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year worldwide and increase mobility for the elderly and those with disabilities by reducing driver error and increasing personal mobility. Yet public safety will continue to be a priority and implementation a little messy as these technologies are tested and begin to mature. Can you imagine being pulled over by a police officer for a speeding violation while seated in the back seat of your car watching a movie on your tablet? Would you get the ticket? Would you blame the car maker for the ticket? Would the car maker blame the AI software maker? Would your insurance rates go up because “you were speeding,” or got into an accident, even though you were not driving?

AI is rapidly growing in the areas of transportation, defense, security and entertainment. I cannot help but think about the future impact AI will have on the world of public education at all levels during the next 20 years. We need to recognize the use of AI in education has started and will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Some of the popular education applications that incorporate AI technology include:

  1. Automated grading – These tools are becoming more common; essay grading software continues to mature and will only get better.
  2. Digital tutors – Given the rapid pace of technological advancements, low-cost tutoring systems for all students may be realistic in the near future.
  3. Feedback systems – Using adaptive learning programs and data to drive instructional decisions helps to pinpoint learning gaps and identify customized instructional strategies.
  4. Personalized library systems – How students find and use information will continue to radically change research strategies.
  5. Language & speech translation tools – For English as a second language, real-time translation tools are a tremendous asset for students and teachers.

Most of us have become accustomed to answering the telephone at home and hearing a computer generated voice on the other end. Recently, I received a charity solicitation call. For the first time, I realized I was not having a conversion with a person, but with a computer. I felt completely surprised and somewhat uneasy. Based on the warm, caring and sincere voice that greeted me, I had pictured a woman in her 60s or 70s who was volunteering her time to make calls on behalf of a worthy nonprofit organization. I would’ve bet a million dollars that I was talking with someone’s grandmother, not a computer. Welcome to the world of artificial intelligence!

I am sure AI will continue to be leveraged as a tool to improve the life for all humans. However, as noted in the report, this will only happen if: “… industry, civil society, and government work together to develop the positive aspects of the technology, (and) manage its risks and challenges …”

We can predict now with near certainty that nearly one million American jobs will be lost in the next 20 years as driverless vehicles are fully implemented. Truck drivers, taxi drivers and even school bus drivers will likely become as obsolete as elevator operators. I am not sure if we can accurately predict staffing cuts in K-12 classrooms because of AI technology, but we could see a reduction in para pros as schools begin to purchase digital teaching aids (robots) to support student learning. This seems scary to everyone, but as leaders in education, we need to be mindful of AI trends and begin to think about the implications for good teaching and learning.


Jamey Fitzpatrick (@Jameyfitz): Mr. Fitzpatrick is the President and CEO of Michigan Virtual University and has served as a catalyst for change and a champion of innovation in public education. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for Olivet College.