Posted by: crudbasher | February 24, 2014

Will Students Obey Computer Teachers?

Nobody likes to think they can be replaced by a computer but any job that is repetitive and can have rules designed to describe how to do it is a fair target. The most popular post I wrote in the last 4 years by far is the post entitled Computers Will Replace Teachers, and Here’s How. In it I talk about how adaptive learning technologies will make it possible for computers to 1. provide a learning experience completely tailored for each student, and 2. be able to provide this anytime, anywhere. I don’t think those conditions have changed but I want to address another related issues.

Teachers are used to being the authority in the classroom. Could a robot or computer do the same? A recent study seems to indicate yes.


Two 8-foot robots recently began directing traffic in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa. The automatons are little more than traffic lights dressed up as campy 1960s robots—and yet, drivers obey them more readily than the humans previously directing traffic there.


The Congolese bots provide a fascinating glimpse into human-robot interaction. It’s a rather surprising observation that humans so readily obey robots, even very simple ones, in certain situations. But the observation isn’t merely anecdotal—there’s research on the subject. (Hat tip to Motherboard for pointing out a fascinating study for us robot geeks.)

It’s quite a fascinating article. So to conclude, yes a robot can have as much authority as a teacher, as long as it’s 8 feet tall. (Maybe with laser cannons?) 🙂 On a more serious note, the students would rapidly figure out the limits of the rules the robot operates under, just like they do with human teachers.


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