Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Education For the Better—If We Let It

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Opinion

It’s hard to believe that it was only a bit over a year ago that ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) bot, was introduced to the general public, giving us a taste of the transformative power of AI technologies. Today, 100 million people use ChatGPT each week.

Despite its ground-breaking potential, fear of new AI technologies quickly began to set in. Soon after ChatGPT appeared, some schools and school districts started banning it. Given that the bot can create an eloquent response to any essay prompt within seconds, educators were worried that it would lead to widespread cheating. One conservative education commentator even suggested that ChatGPT could usher in a return of penmanship in the classroom.

But conservatives aren’t the only ones who are responding to emerging AI tools with regressive policies and practices. In October, the Biden Administration issued an executive order establishing federal AI standards that could have a chilling effect on technological advancement. Innovation expert Adam Thierer wrote that “the EO represents a potential sea change in the nation’s approach to digital technology markets, as federal policymakers appear ready to shun the open innovation model that made American firms global leaders in almost every computing and digital technology sector. With the United States now facing fierce competition from global AI companies in China and other nations, the danger exists that the country could put algorithmic innovators in a regulatory cage, encumbering them with many layers of bureaucratic permission slips before any new product or service could launch.” 

Just days before the Biden Administration issued its directive, entrepreneur and investor Marc Andresseen explained that any top-down halt of emerging technologies will cause great harm by stymying both greater individual flourishing and collective human progress. Andreessen, who created the Mosaic web browser, and cofounded Netscape as well as the leading venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote in his 5,000-word Techno-Optimist Manifesto: “We believe technology is liberatory. Liberatory of human potential. Liberatory of the human soul, the human spirit. Expanding what it can mean to be free, to be fulfilled, to be alive. We believe technology opens the space of what it can mean to be human.”

Like Andreessen, I am a techno-optimist. Despite overblown fears of AI in the classroom and calls to return to pre-digital pedagogy, I believe that AI and other emerging technologies will transform education for the better. For starters, these technologies have the potential to accelerate self-directed education, empowering young people to take charge of their own learning.

I decided to kick-off 2024 with a LiberatED Podcast conversation on AI, emerging technologies, and the future of learning with microschool-founder and tech-entrepreneur Tobin Slaven. A fellow techno-optimist, Slaven launched Acton Academy Fort Lauderdale in 2022 and recently founded vPAL Labs, a startup working to create AI companions that combine the roles of a personal tutor, life coach, and mentor.

Slaven’s microschool is part of the global Acton Academy network of more than 300 independently-operated, learner-driven schools, serving thousands of learners. He is incubating his AI startup at his school to experiment with different ways that the vPAL AI companion can support learner autonomy.

According to Slaven: “Because we’re so focused on self-directed or learner-driven behavior, tools that we can put in the hands of the learners that allow them to function independently and not have to call on an adult to step in and rescue them or bother their friends who are also trying to focus on their work—anything that allows them to be more functional and independent—that’s very interesting to us. And that’s what I see in this world of personalized education that’s coming with AI.” 

Fear of new technologies, and the desire to control them, may have more to do with a fear of free people and the liberating potential of new technologies, rather than of the technology itself. Whether it is the printing press bringing books to the masses, the internet enabling content creation and knowledge-sharing by ordinary people on an unprecedented scale, or AI bots in the classroom that challenge traditional, teacher-directed educational practices, new technologies upend entrenched power structures through decentralization and individualization. 

“Technology is nothing,” said Apple cofounder, Steve Jobs. “What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

Replacing fear of new technologies with a faith in free people will unleash innovation and accelerate human potential, progress, and prosperity. In education, that means jettisoning concerns about AI in the classroom and imagining what is possible when young people truly have the freedom to learn.

Kerry McDonald

Kerry McDonald

Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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