Posted by: crudbasher | July 11, 2012

Replacing Teachers With Machines – Status Report #1

I look at a lot of sources of news every day. My Personal Learning Network has all sorts of diverse things in it. If one just paid attention to purely stories about technology in education one would would miss a lot of things, primarily because education is one of the last places technology tends to show up in. This is of course ironic, because a lot of these stories about tech originate in university research labs.

So here are some articles I have seen in the last month just about technology that could contribute to an automated teacher. I’m thinking this will be a reoccurring series.

Artificial cerebellum enables human-like object handling by robots – They are simulating pieces of the brain and finding that it works the same way as the real brain.

Muscle-like action allows robot’s camera to mimic human eye movement – Here they are creating a mechanical system that is designed the same way as muscles. Turns out that works too.

A robot takes stock – They have designed a prototype robot that can go through a store and visually take inventory. It also can create a 2d and 3d map of where every item is so you can put it up on a website. This will greatly reduce the need for clerks in stores, thus wiping out another whole area of the labor market.

VoiceTra4U-M will translate 31 languages and is Ready for the London Olympics – This software system will translate speech into other spoken languages in realtime. Since it is software it will be everywhere  soon. (on cell phones for example).

Using large-scale brain simulations for machine learning and AI – Researchers at Google did a large scale simulation of the brain and trained it to recognize images online. Turns out, it liked pictures of cats. Seriously!

Robot hand beats you at rock, paper, scissors 100% of the time – The robot hand watches your hand with a high speed camera, determines what move you are making, and then quickly makes the correct counter.

These stories are all within the last month. This technology is moving very quickly now so it’s hard to predict when we might see learning technology but it is coming.




  1. Interesting. Is this something you look forward to?

    • Hey Max,

      I think I understand what you are asking. In this future I predict, we will need many less teachers. There will be much less contact in the classroom. This is of course different than what we have now but keep in mind before 150 years ago we didn’t really have modern schooling either. It’s not that kids won’t see anyone, it’s that they will see people in the world, not in the classroom.

      I am looking forward to a learning experience that is self driven and tailored to each child in order to maximize their potential. If that involves less teachers then so be it. Societies evolve, sometimes painfully.

      Thanks for commenting!!

      • And thanks for the response!

        I absolutely agree that it is probably the way things are headed, but am concerned nonetheless. 150 years ago the only entertainment children really had was to play together, and they also often worked, exposing themselves to other adult role models… not that I’m advocating a return to child labor! Children now often entertain themselves alone with video games and TV, so when they don’t have enforced social interactions, when are they going to meet other kids? I’m not some elderly moral panicker by the way – I’m 26 and was raised on TV and computer games myself. But I did have to GO to a school and MEET other people all the time, as much as I wanted to be playing mario at home.

        Even for adults its a problem – I enjoyed university greatly, but even when I was studying a few years ago there was a shift towards more online content and less of an on-campus community feeling. Surely there is more to schooling than just knowledge?

  2. Sorry for the delay in responding Max. You raise some great points and I wanted to be able to write a proper response.

    I agree with you that these are very real concerns and I am concerned about them too. Formal school today is expected to do a lot more than just teach fact and figures. It is tasked with teaching social skills, citizenship, and to a certain extent, a moral code. A good question is how well it does these things, because it didn’t always do these things. In my mind, much of that should come from the parents.

    If you look back on when the schools got these responsibilities I would suggest that it happened when both parents started to work. I have no problems with women working however that does take away a lot of time from raising children. This responsibility was then oursourced to schools. I do strongly believe however that schools cannot replace parents in teaching these things. So lack of parental involvement is a big problem.

    I do also think that in many cases children spend too much time looking at screens and not enough interacting in social situations. I remember reading a story where two roommates in college were having a disagreement but didn’t know how to handle it. They went into their separate bedrooms and via text messaging they were able to work it out. They just didn’t know how to do it in person.

    I think a place where we differ is in the value of school in teaching social skills. As I remember it, school was filled with bullying, petty social ranking, gossip and many other distractions. Truthfully I disliked high school. I certainly didn’t learn how to thrive in social situations.

    If you want to teach social skills wouldn’t it work better to place the kids in a situation where they see these skills modeled in a positive way? Based on automation, I think we are going to see the next generation raised with a parent in the home again. They will have less money to spend and more time on their hands. With the Internet providing a way to connect, I think you will see a rise of many more social activities in local neighborhoods. Just people getting together. By the way, I have always seen this in churches. That is an example of a thriving social network.

    People used to get together all the time socially. Then both parents started to work and had much less time to get to know their neighbors. Couple that with TV and other distractions and you have a lack of social activities.

    By the way, I have taken an online degree and met some friends for life online. It just depends on how it is done.

    I thank you very much for a great comment and look forward to your response (if you want to)!

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