What’s the link between Mahatma Gandhi and the virtual classroom?

Education is one of the biggest growth markets over the next 25 years, according to research by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“Technological innovation is fundamentally transforming education, and updating the skills required for the contemporary workplace. Building future-ready education systems requires designing curricula fit for the 21st century, coupled with the consistent delivery of a basic education for everyone that builds a solid foundation for a lifetime of adapting and developing new abilities. Specialized education should provide in-demand skills, and address the disconnect between employer needs and existing instruction in order to optimize global talent.”

Google and others are licking their lips. There’s money in ‘education’. The internet has opened the door to the democratization of education in ways we’ve never imagined.

Countries with poor provision of formal education can now get on board and start to educate millions of children at low cost/no cost.

For example, the future of India is dependent on millions of children being educated, moving out of poverty and joining the growing number of skilled (knowledge) workers that will help build India into an economic powerhouse of the 21st Century, overtaking its neighbour China.

The model could be Massive Open Learning Courses (MOOCs), funded by commercial advertising. For some, this is a positive picture of the future where the application of AI in education could have an important role to play in building a more inclusive and prosperous society. The WEF has a lot to say on this topic.

A very good friend, US lawyer and Harvard Law School Academic Geoffrey Morson, has just flown to India to speak at the UNESCO/ Mahatma Gandhi Foundation Conference (14–17 November 2018) on the subject of Artificial Intelligence and the future of education. To be more precise, who owns and who manages AI in education?

The organisers have set up the following debate:

“With the explosion of digital platforms, where much of the discussion has focused on the ownership of content, the discussion on data generated by AI on student behaviour has not yet been discussed much. In most cases, this ownership resides with the platform. As the generation of such data grows, its use for improving learning will be enormous and the access of companies and research to this information will be critical. Should the ownership of such data be managed or not? Should it reside in the realm of management by companies, the sovereign state or multilateral agencies?”

At first glance, AI looks like a massive opportunity to reach millions of children otherwise excluded from formal education and an opportunity to mobilize an untapped skilled workforce that can help stimulate economic growth of some of the world’s poorest countries through AI in education.

However, dig a bit deeper and there’s a raft of data protection and privacy issues that countries like India will need to grapple with as a result of such developments.

Here in the West, we’re getting used to the idea that using a browser to access the internet will soon be replaced by Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

The more personalisation that can be built into such technologies, the more appropriate and quicker we will get what we are looking for, rather than browsing that tends to waste a lot of time. Well, that’s what the data scientists tell us.

So PDAs like Amazon Alexa have become ubiquitous among certain customer segments looking to save time and reduce the browser experience to one in which we command a PDA to do all the work.

But are we ready to get these PDAs to do much more and start to teach us? Are we ready to be woken by Amazon’s Alexa in the morning and then get her to teach us quantum physics? If we feel uncomfortable about that, why should we expect others in developing countries to embrace this with enthusiasm?

Well, for one thing, this opens a Pandora box of social and ethical issues where effectively in the wrong hands AI in education can be used for mind control.

If it’s OK for robots to build cars (Tata’s Nano in India is built by robots) is it OK to be taught by them as well?

The development of the next gen algorithms and machine learning has made this a reality … and we’ve not even scraped the surface of data protection, privacy and security issues.

Perhaps what’s less well known is the point that education can be an effective form of social control.

The planet is at crisis point and it’s not just because of global warming.

In 2014, an analysis of United Nations data by the journal Science concluded that a halt to population growth in this Century was unlikely and projected that between 9.6bn and 12.3bn people would be living on the planet by 2100.

India is set to become the most populous country in the world with 1.5bn people by 2030: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/by-2030-world-will-have-8-6-billion-people-1-5-billion-of-them-in-india/articleshow/59277566.cms

We now consume 1.5 x the resources of the planet which is unsustainable and will soon be the cause of mankind’s own destruction.

The WEF has highlighted education as the key to slowing down the world pop growth: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/how-education-can-moderate-population-growth/

So we need to ask ourselves: Does AI in education need to be regulated in the way that the use of personal data now must comply with global standards?

There are practical, legal, economic, social and societal issues that converge in trying to answer what looks like a straight forward question but in reality, it isn’t.

There are several vested interests set against each other: commercial versus societal, freedom of expression versus the need to control population birth, etc etc..

The biggest challenge is we still don’t know enough about the enormous capability of AI in education that could make traditional classroom learning obsolete by the end of this century and where power is vested not in military strength but the ability to control how we all think.

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