Posted by: crudbasher | January 10, 2011

Robots in Classrooms?

Don’t you often find that when a person wants to discredit an argument, they take that argument to an irrational extreme?  On one hand it does help illustrate fallacies in that argument, but it tends to create false choice.  This is called a strawman argument.

I have seen several stories in the past few months now about how computers and robots are getting better so shouldn’t we replace teachers in classrooms with robots?

This is a silly argument (for now).

I have always admired the job a teacher does.  If you think about it you have to be doing about three different types of tasks at the same time.  You deal with frequent derailings of what you are trying to do.  Most importantly, you are dealing with a captive audience who in a lot of cases don’t want to be there.  Talk about a no win situation!

If you have been reading my blog for a while you have no doubt picked up on my belief that you can’t say what technology can’t do.  Most proclamations like that in the past have been shown to be wrong.  I do actually think that in the future (~15 years) we will have Artificial Intelligence computers that can pass as humans some of the time.  But way before that will come AI agents.  These are computing systems that act as assistants to us.  There are many things that computers can do better than people.  That includes even teachers.  An AI assistant for teachers would be a tremendous help in making the classroom work better.  Each student can have their own AI assistant for answering basic questions.  Why not?  The article linked below makes a good point (eventually) that people have their own contribution to teaching that can’t be replaced by computers. (yet)

What is the goal here?  Is it to make sure there is job security for teachers? (that’s the union’s job)  Or is it to make sure each child develops to their full potential?

There are a lot of arguments buzzing around the Internet these days.  Make sure your argument can beat more than a strawman.

  • Intuition vs mechanical technique

    tags: education technology robot AI

    • a training exercise at a penitentiary in West Virginia, at which artificial intelligence (AI) software was being used to recognize faces, gestures and patterns of group behavior.


    • But machines do not blink or forget. They are tireless assistants. . . At work or school, the technology opens the door to a computerized supervisor that is always watching.


    • Harvard professor Steven Pinker’s great 2009 book How the Mind Works


    • wonder if we’re making the same mistake in AI that we’re doing in education reform: getting carried away by an illusory short cut and ignoring one-half of the equation we need to solve.


    • Pinker talks about


    • the human brain is (spoiler alert!) really, really complicated


    • we may not sweat the small stuff, but our efforts to make fancy robots derail because they can’t get past the small stuff.


    • Robots can do the intelligent number-crunching, but since we still don’t even understand sentience ourselves — except to say that it exists — how the hell could we hope to instill it in a machine?


    • it does underscore the need for AI to serve in a complementary fashion


    • Use cameras to augment the work of your prison guards; don’t replace the guards altogether.


    • our well-founded emphasis on improving the quality of teaching and learning is leading us to overvalue one side of the equation (intelligence, or, more specifically in a school context, technique) and ignore the other (consciousness, or, more specifically, the identity and integrity of the individual who is doing the teaching).


    • But when we embrace technique as the answer for our troubles, we deny the deeply relational aspect of teaching and learning.


    • Parker’s and Pinker’s insights may lead to a messier equation, but it’s how the mind works, and it’s what good teaching requires. So why not make 2011 a year when we start to acknowledge both sides of this coin? When it comes to understanding the human brain, we must study both intelligence and consciousness. And when it comes to producing a world-class profession of teachers, we must help individuals acquire both top-flight technique and a deep understanding of the self that teaches.


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. […] relates to the blog post from yesterday about AI agents.  Once we have glasses or contacts with displays in them, we will come to […]

  2. […] Wins Jeopardy; Teachers Should Take Note On several occasions I have speculated whether a computer can replace a teacher. Right now the answer is no. I believe […]

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