I am a big believer in individually driven, adaptive learning. This means, not everyone in a big room all learning the same thing in the same way. No factory models. I think to have a personalized teacher means you have to use automation. A smart teacher can be active 24/7 and will always be with a child. So how do you actually do it?
Well after some thought I know how it won’t happen. You won’t see a company develop a “computer teacher” device. No, it will actually be a side effect of other products.
Here are two examples of what I mean.
There is a new (potential) product called Navdy. It looks like a heads up display for your car but it has a computer in there too based on a smartphone.
Notice in the video you can talk to it and it also recognizes gestures? You can get data very seamlessly while you are driving. More on that in a bit.
The second example comes from Wired magazine.
Now a small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes those limitations. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.
But Kittlaus points out that all of these services are strictly limited. Cheyer elaborates: “Google Now has a huge knowledge graph—you can ask questions like ‘Where was Abraham Lincoln born?’ And it can name the city. You can also say, ‘What is the population?’ of a city and it’ll bring up a chart and answer. But you cannot say, ‘What is the population of the city where Abraham Lincoln was born?’” The system may have the data for both these components, but it has no ability to put them together, either to answer a query or to make a smart suggestion. Like Siri, it can’t do anything that coders haven’t explicitly programmed it to do.
Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like “Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.
Ok so what does all this mean for education? Very large companies are devoting vast resources to software that allows you to ask questions. This new product Viv should allow it to piece together different queries and devise an answer. This is part of what a teacher does every day. If you combine this with smartphone, heads up displays like Navdy and things like Google Glass, you will always be surrounded by a computing environment in which you can ask questions. The next step then would be able to be say “teach me about that”. The system would eventually be smart enough to be able to piece together a lesson personalized to the person asking because it will know everything about the student. It can create an analogy based on pop music figures based on the music on their playlist perhaps. It can suggest books to read based on the reading level of the student. It can suggest other people asking similar questions. Maybe it can setup a teleconference with someone else in the world on the fly. Maybe it can connect you with a subject matter expert whom you can ask a quick question (for a small fee). Imagine a doctor driving in his car. He has made himself available to answer questions in his speciality. His car pops up a question from a young student and he can record a quick answer and send it back. All of this happens seamlessly.
This is the next step in computing; the seamless accessing of information. The virtual teacher will happen simply as an extension of what is being built today. Nobody will set out to design it but somebody at Google or Apple or Microsoft or Amazon or at thousands of startup companies will say, “you know if we just add this little feature, we can have this thing teach too.”
Computer teachers won’t be directly created. Instead they will be a cool add on feature of a much larger system.