1. Editorial: Learning with bots

Editorial: Learning with bots

They can be a game-changer for education

By: | Published: May 18, 2016 7:16 AM

Mobile phones and internet have changed the way humans interact with technology, but there is another revolution coming which will define how technology will interact with us. The development of bots—software that automates things people do—coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) is set to revolutionise not just repetitive tasks, but will also learn new tasks in the process. While bots already have had a large impact on chatting industry, where one can just log on and start chatting or even order from websites in some cases, the next big leap can be for education. Recently, a professor at Georgia Tech put bots to test. He created a teaching assistant using IBM’s AI technology, Watson, but never told his students about it. The bot was given all frequently asked questions and their answers and was set up to answer only when it had 97% surety. At the end of the semester, most students were unaware that they were interacting with an AI entity and not with a human.

MIT had introduced its dragon bot, Kombusto, to teach preschoolers in 2011. A new dragonbot, Parle, can help children learn and tell stories and another one, Pico,can teach children to mix colours, but there is not much in the field of advanced studies that bots can do, as yet. An interaction with a few chatbots like Mitsuku, Eliza and Skynet-AI shows that while bots were well versed in history and general knowledge—mostly related to the US and UK—and were able to answer these questions, in terms of mathematics, the best they could do is act as a scientific calculator. In terms of word problems and algebra, Skynet-AI was able to understand and answer the problem only 4 or 5 out of ten times. On the other hand, some bots on messaging app Telegram could act as a dictionary, suggesting meanings and synonyms and also do grammar-checks. With more advanced bots being worked on, like GeoS which can solve SAT geometry questions, and Sophia—developed by MIT in 2004 to take on advanced problems—bots can certainly be trained to be helping hands for teachers across the world, especially when students and organisations are turning towards online courses and learning programmes. With an ASER 2014 report highlighting the poor state of education, where only 25% of Indian students enrolled in Class 5 were able to read simple English sentences and 26% were able to division, bots can certainly go a long way in assisting teachers and students to transform elementary education in the country.

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