Expert View

Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

In future there would be no need to go to universities for routine Bachelor and Master degrees. Read on to know the whys and hows

The last few years have seen a rapid growth of ‘machines that learn’ and their day to day applications as Siri, Alexa and voice to text as well as human language translation have become more ubiquitous than self-driven cars. A few years ago, Prof Ashok Goel of Georgia Tech deployed Jill Watson as a Teaching Assistant. Just a few days back Google announced its Google duplex which in due course could be ready for teaching the Socratic questioning way. It is accepted and expected that more and more cognitive functions will be doable with Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotics.

Various studies have predicted the impact of these technologies on the future of work, and the emergence of the Gig economy. A study in 2013 from Oxford University projected that nearly half of US jobs are at risk of automation, within the next 20 years. But this seems to underestimate the speed of change. Another 2015 McKinsey report concluded that solely by using existing technologies, 45% of the work that humans are paid to do could be automated, resulting in savings of about $2 trillion in wages in the US.

The present education system, to put it mildly is not able to cope with these challenges. The topic of ‘ educating humans in the age of Artificial Intelligence’ is one of great concern and interest to the whole world, and many reports from the World Economic Forum and other think tanks and consulting groups have addressed this issue.


Prof Joseph E Aoun, the 7th President of Northeastern University suggests that “a robot proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts”.


One rather well received study of this subject is by Prof Joseph E Aoun, the 7th President of Northeastern University published as a book in 2017 by the MIT Press with the title “Robot-Proof: Higher education in the age of Artificial Intelligence”. He suggests that “a robot proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts”.

He draws upon an analogy with legal education where a student learns a specific body of knowledge, as well as a legal mindset. In the age of Artificial Intelligence, a student must master specific content as well as be able to practice uniquely human cognitive capacities.

He proposes three new literacy’s: data literacy, technological literacy and human literacy. These have to be supplemented with higher-order mental skills. He proposes systems thinking, entrepreneurship and cultural agility.

Being the President of a University, Professor Aoun is not able to imagine learning without a campus and teachers. It is worth looking at an experiment that began in France, has been replicated in US and perhaps may come to India soon. This is Ecole 42, a University without any teachers. Obviously 42 is not for everyone, which they make very clear. But it is a breathtakingly great alternative for people who do not thrive in the traditional educational system.

So drawing upon various ideas that are being proposed my own views on educating humans in the age of AI is to make all students confident lifelong learners by the time they are 18 years of age, and most of them have finished formal schooling. There would be no need to go to Universities for routine Bachelor and Master degrees. Those really passionate about academic research would join special groups of their interest and begin their journey as interns, acquiring the requisite credentials on their way to a journey of becoming an expert in their chosen field. Perhaps an ecole 42 model with Professors as well.

The educational journey of 18 years should result in the right abilities at its end. So when a learner is ready to leave School, he or she should be able to : read (English) with comprehension and speed, be a keen observer, be able to visualise, draw and have a well developed imagination, make things with own hands (bricolage and maker), be curious and ask good questions, enjoy abstraction in Mathematics even if cannot make mental calculations or with pen/pencil and paper, critical Thinking, creative thinking, Computational Thinking, Deferred gratification; Developing a growth mindset ; Grit; Developing a Sense of humour; Developing Conversational Intelligence, Developing Cognitive Flexibility; Learning from MOOCs, YouTube and other Internet resources, awareness of emerging technologies, information fluency.

It is obvious that all these abilities cannot be acquired over a short period of time, over the last few years of schooling. All the early years are also very important.The first stage is at about 5 years, when the child is ready to go to school. During the first 5 years, the role of the parents is very important. The home is the first School of the child and the mother’s lap is the first classroom. One can easily see that many of the attributes listed earlier, can and should be developed in the first 5 years before starting School.

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The next stage is after about 5 years of schooling. There is a very famous book, that has sold in millions by Robert Fulghum with the title “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”. And then there is a need for review at the end of class 8. Between these stages a child should have significant flexibility in its progress rather than rigid standards of subject-wise achievement every year. During this journey let every learning intervention be such that it promotes personalisation, mastery learning and the development of an autonomous self-directed lifelong learner.


The educational journey of 18 years should result in the right abilities at its end. So when a learner is ready to leave School, he or she should be able to : read (English) with comprehension and speed, be a keen observer, be able to visualise, draw and have a well developed imagination


 Professor Aeoun proposes that just as the field of Robotics is creating a very advanced class of Machines, the above ideas describe a new discipline ‘humanics’ to nurture our species’ unique traits of creativity and flexibility, to prepare us for a future where skilled humans work in harmony with intelligent machines.

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