Tuesday 11 May 2021
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Rethinking teaching in the age of Artificial Intelligence

For a long time, computers have been perceived as objects that receive human input and then process this input into output. However, with the advancement in computational capacity, deep learning and inspiration from many other fields; such as psychology, computer engineering, human behavior, computer science and many others; computers have become more than just objects. They are now beings.
This article aims to provide a brief overview of what artificial intelligence (AI) is, the impact it had on the world thus far and how it will change the world in the future. Additionally, the article also highlight some potential threats AI will pose should countries of the world not change their education approaches to prepare learners/students for a world where intelligent machines are the norms.

This world, is not far away.
AI has been defined differently by different researchers and scholars, and many of these definitions have evolved over the years. AI and Machine Learning (ML) has become buzz words, and has been used interchangeably. However, AI and ML is not the same thing, but the perception that they are one and the same can sometimes lead to some confusion. So, in this article we also hope to make justice to the readers by clearly differentiating between AI and ML.
To understand the difference; think of AI as not creating a robot but a computer mind that thinks like a human. ML on the other hand, is the application of AI that enables machines to learn by themselves without being instructed, given data.
Artificial Intelligence has been around for a very long time, with roots from Greek myths about a mechanical men designed to mimic our own behavior.
In Europe, early computers were conceived as “logical machines” and by reproducing capabilities such as basic arithmetic and memory, engineers saw their job, fundamentally, as attempting to create mechanical brains. In 20th century, the work of Alan Turing, also known as the father of modern computer science, has raised important question about the ability of machines to think.
As technology, and, importantly, our understanding of how our minds work progresses, our concept of what constitutes AI will continue to change.
Rather than increasingly complex calculations, work in the field of AI concentrated on mimicking human decision-making processes and carrying out tasks in ever more human ways.
Though AI promises opportunities for new world order, there has been a growing concern from experts about the possibilities of humans losing control.
“The AI, Big Data is a threat to human beings.
The AI and robots are going to kill a lot of jobs, because in the future, these will be done by machines,” Jack Ma said during a panel discussion during the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos.
However, I believe, we shouldn’t fear machines, as humans we have always evolved and conquer all challenges in our long history on earth. Rather, I believe a partnership of humans and machines will eradicate hunger, stop climate change and solve all problem we think are unsolvable today. And that is what we should focus on.
The recent national senior secondary certificate (NSSC) pass rate is a great concern, one which needs to make us think about what should be done to solve our education crisis.
Thus, as educators we need to rethink not only about how we teach, but what we teach our children. Teaching needs to be about equipping learners to become more pragmatic and analytical thinkers.
Though, some educationists will say this is already happening in a student-centered learning environment. I beg to differ, student centered learning only emphasize on teaching techniques, and the need for teacher and students to equally interact in the classroom.
However, this neglect content aspect of the classroom, which in many cases is outdated and irrelevant in the world were computers that think. Student centered learning doesn’t also address the incompetence of the teacher/facilitator.
With the advancement in artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML), computers now have a mind, which cannot only store more information than a human brain but with capabilities to think and even feel. No doubt, irrespective of our complex brains, computers can process signals faster than we can. Because of these and many other reasons, there has been suggestions of bringing AI in the classroom, in order to solve our education crisis.
At the just ended World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the billionaire founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma made a provocative, yet relevant statement “We cannot allow our kids to be taught using outdated knowledge and expect them to compete with machines”. Though educationists will claim that the body of knowledge has concrete facts, I believe teaching our children about past events will not prepare our kids on how to face the challenges of the future.
It’s not only Jack Ma who is concerned about AI, there is a growing concern among humanist that machines that think will take away millions of jobs. Though, this might be true, AI will also create a lot new jobs.
However, the only catch about these jobs is that they are will highly technical, mostly in Computer Science; Machine Learning, Software Development and Design. Thus, it’s important that Computer Science become a compulsory subject in all schools.
According to Anthony Seldon, an education expert stated that machines will replaces teachers in 2027. He is not the first to note technology’s potential to replace human workers. However, traditionalists still claim that ICT, nor automation will ever replace humans because of our emotional intelligence. Yes, ICT of 1990s will not replace humans but AI has come of age. Today, machines are replacing financial experts, outperforming doctors especially in the diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, and contending with advertising experts.
Sofia the first robot citizen of the world is a good example of how AI has come of age, as a robot she can smile, make 62 facial expressions, make eye-contact, recognize individuals and do other humanly things.
Sofia also aspires to continue study, continue learning and one day become a teacher. Recently, she also stated that she wants to have a family in the future. If she becomes a teacher, can you and I compete with her with all her vast storage capacity and processing abilities?
This makes me agree with Seldon but I do not think education will be fully automated by 2027 but perhaps by 2035. Additionally, if we do not change how and what we teach, AI will definitely alienate humans; AI models in forms robots will be teachers, leaders, bank tellers, recruiters, developers and takeover every occupation that is occupied by humans today.
According to Ben Goertzel, “The human condition is deeply problematic, but as super-human intelligent AIs become one billion-times smarter than humans, they will help us solve the world’s biggest problems.
Resources will be plentiful for all humans, work will be unnecessary and we will be forced to accept a universal basic income. All the status hierarchies will disappear and humans will be free from work and be able move on up to a more meaningful existence.”
Whether we accept that intelligent machines/computers that think exist or not. Advancement in technology has made machines smarter and intelligent than we are, and if we do not seek new approaches to educate our children. Humanity will not stand any chance against artificial intelligence.
However, we can become more proactive and prepare our children with the right kinds of skills that will enable them to not only compete with machines but remain relevant and collaborate with these intelligent machines to end poverty, stop climate change and diseases.

Lameck Mbangula Amugongo, is a Lecturer in the department of Computer Science at the Namibia University of Science & Technology. The views expressed in this article are entirely his, and do not reflect the opinions of the employer.

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