The chief technology officer at Open AI is a hugely impressive woman. Born in Albania, she won a scholarship to a famous Canadian school, and then took two university degrees at Dartmouth in the USA. Now in her mid 30s, she gave a recent interview on being awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater. The interview proceeded upon fairly normal lines, with the interviewee safely within industry discretion rails and PR requirements for the most part, until that is we reached Q&A at the end. Then, for me, two really interesting statements made the previous hour worth while. In the first instance. Mira Murati made the interesting statement that she did believe that those whose data had been used to train models should be recompensed, and that she and her colleagues were working on a recompense engine which would assess the value created by individual datasets as part of the whole LLM construct. This is obviously important and I will return to comment further on it later.

However, another questionner asked her where, in her view, AI was likely to make its greatest and the most lasting impact. She unhesitatingly pointed to education, and in elaborating her answer, pointed to so many of the issues that the teaching profession, along with the producers of educational content and services, have tackled for so long. As she responded, I was personally taken back to my own first contact with AI as I have rehearsed here and elsewhere many times before. In 1985, in a Marvin Minsky seminar at the MIT Media Lab, I first heard him defend AI, in this case from a librarian who thought it would kill books and libraries, by saying that he wanted to promote the world of books and libraries, by filling libraries with books that were able to speak to each other, update each other and argue with each other. All this in pursuit of educational process that he said, and I think we all know, is essentially a matter of individual learning, of the ability of the individual to respond to different stimuli, at different times in a lifetime of learning, and as a result of different states of learning readiness. in her answer, I felt that Ms Murati was pointing to a world where the inequalities and waste caused by teaching 30 people of different abilities in a classroom at the same time to pass an examination which by definition was standardised to one level of learning achievement could it last draw to an end. The idea that each learner could learn at their own speed, because a machine environment  was able to assess their learning ability and readiness and present them with the appropriate next learning materials at the point at which they were ready to progress and in the media that enabled them to absorb it best – becoming effectively a personal tutor.

Whenever I write things like this, my teacher friends rise up in revolt and  point to the immense value of the teacher-pupil relationship at all levels of education. It is important therefore to say that I agree with every word of this. I believe that if AI really works in education then it will free teachers to be real teachers. Not markers of papers. Not distracted from the brilliant pupils and their needs by the requirements of slow or inadequate learners. Not neglecting slow and needy learners because the reputation of the school depends upon the success of the brilliant, who must be personally coached to ensure brand distinction.If AI works in education, it will give teachers at all levels the time to be the people they need to be: the gurus, the thought leaders, the people in charge of pastoral care, the listeners and the advisory voice of experience. Overall longer term, machine intelligence will be able to monitor and know very effectively what levels of learning have been accomplished. Feedback given to teachers will grow in quality and reliability. AI in education could eventually release us all from examination systems, that are grossly inadequate, and mostly measure which members of society are good at examination systems. It will prevent us from penalising the individual who had an off day, a headache, or a period pain, and it will measure everything that the learner has learnt in all dimensions, not simply the ability to answer a multiple-choice or essay question which may not be representative either of the course or the learning process.

As a young man in educational publishing in the late 1960s I remember my puzzlement about educational resources and what worked and what didn’t. Sitting at the back of classrooms in London comprehensive schools gave little enlightenment, but did demonstrate the boredom induced for very many people by the group learning process. Yet those young people, bored or engaged, all had talent, and that quality, I knew, had to be released into society, if society were to flourish and develop. Over the years I’ve worked with start-ups and entrepreneurs in a variety of different ways on schemes of learning based around learning pathways and learning journeys. Some good things have been done, but until now we have never had the AI technology which looked like making a real impact on the problem.

In the past two years, with the rise of generative AI, it seems to me that it just become more probable, this idea of a real man-machine relationship in guided human learning, supervised and overseen by human teachers, is it last a real possibility. How we reward the contributors of learning material, how we ensure that the range of data provided gives the ability stretch and complexity of content needed., And how we recompense contributors for the use of materials in the network, remain huge problems, and ones which will be difficult to break down and tackle effectively. But I hope – and education is fundamentally a triumph of hope over experience – one day employers will be able to make hiring decisions based upon really knowing what the candidate knows; the professional in one country will be able to get a job in another without a clash of professional qualification standards: and that we will cease to talk about “slow learners“ but of people at different and measurable levels of learning engagement and attainment. And who knows, it might even be a world where teachers enjoy teaching again.

Government health warning: while the prospect here is glorious, it does carry huge risks. These systems are subject to political interference. In a world where book burning and the removal of books from educational library shelves is now sadly prevalent, we will need to protect the man-machine educational interface from political distortion.


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