Is this the end of the times tables?
We have seen or heard about the developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and the development of algorithms. Some of you will have read science fiction novels or watched movies that lead us to worry about the development of “intelligent” machines. Some of this is exciting and amazing and some of it is downright scary.
As organisational leaders, how are we portraying these developments to our communities and our children? Is it Brave New World or the Terminator?
Actually artificial intelligence (AI) is a broad transdisciplinary field which
incorporates logic, statistics, cognitive psychology, decision theory,
neuroscience, linguistics, cybernetics, and computer engineering. For quite some time machine learning (ML), an AI subdiscipline, has provided us with tools that allow us to make Internet searches, create e-commerce sites, make recommendations for goods and services, image and speech recognition, sensor technologies, robotic devices, and cognitive decision support systems (DSSs).
While these tools are nothing new to internet users, we seem to have suddenly crossed to a new level of machine learning where a few well-constructed questions to a machine, can provide answers for us, within seconds. Some philosophical thinkers are predicting that this kind of artificial intelligence could be just as transformational as other general-purpose technologies, such as steam engines, railroads, electricity, electronics, and the Internet. Some believe that AI will be a turning point for education, research, for health monitoring and even how we are gainfully employed. Maybe this might result in job displacement, automation and a whole new role for “teachers” and students.
I have been future focused since I joined the workforce in the early 1980s and published a journal article about the future of work. In the 1990s I completed a masters degree looking at the future of virtual reality and its implications for education. Now in 2023 I am looking again at the impact of artificial intelligence on education. And yes I do think it will be game changer, just like previous developments in science and technology.
But is it to be embraced or censored?
If you are a parent or caregiver for a young learner what do you need to know? This is not the end of education as we know it! Teachers may have to adapt but that’s business as usual. So what if students can easily find answers to research questions? Teachers will simply adapt to a new way of questioning. Instead of assessing whether students can find answers to questions, maybe we ask them to critique the answers provided by AI applications. If facts and historical records are easily sourced, then students have more time to analyse, learn lessons and contemplate future choices. People with learning disabilities may benefit from alternative ways of presenting information; hearing and listening rather than reading, for example. We will embrace creativity rather than rewarding rote
And I’m going out on a limb here by questioning why do we place major
importance on the rote learning of the times table? When was the last time you actually needed to work out seven times nine in your head? It’s a clever trick but is it the be all and end all of understanding mathematics? Maybe we would liberate a whole host of young learners if we simply showed them where to find such information (calculators) and focused on the interpretation of mathematical theories. Some older people will remember the abacus, but we don’t need to use it now!
In conclusion, I see artificial intelligence as just a new learning tool. It could be scary but for now, it’s an aid towards free thinking, analysis, creativity,
interpretation skills. By giving us speedy answers to questions, we gain time for contemplation and interpretation. In other words we can use our brains to ensure we are the masters and not the slaves!
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