In fact, psychology professor Alison Gopnik goes as far as calling us ‘scientists from the crib’, benefiting from our inquisitive nature to learn as much as possible from the world around us. Our emotions are an asset in this journey, helping us handle and rationalise the world and all its complexities. We’re organic, unruly, social, and inextricably connected to our environment.
Rather than a hindrance, however, this is the true strength of human nature and learning, and this kind of curiosity will become infinitely more important in the future. With a need to absorb information more quickly than ever to battle the shortening skills half-life, the future belongs not to those with encyclopaedic but static knowledge – the know-it-alls – but to those with a keen ability to ‘learn to learn’ and develop new skills – the learn-it-alls.
Our current education system is not yet ready to meet that challenge. The exam-based system of learning by rote for the sake of a test is increasingly outdated. Whilst we need a basic level of learning across the board – language, history, culture, and science – to be life-long learners, what we really need is experimentation, imagination, and joy.
This is where machines come in. Tempting as it may be to pit man against machine, rather than looking at AI as competition, we should see it as a partner. Artificial Intelligence can steer us to a future where we enhance, rather than replace, our most human characteristics. It’s not necessarily about what we can automate – but what we can augment.
Admittedly, some aspects of early education – for example, early-stage parent-child relationships – are not yet suitable for AI. But after the reading and writing stage, as education becomes more streamlined and individualised, technology can shine. In any given cohort of youngsters, Artificial Intelligence is able to assess differences in ability and advise how everyone can reach their best potential, and give them the personalised learning and assessment they need to do so. Gifted students and those with special needs can be sent on bespoke paths, allowing both to achieve far more than they do now. That means better results for learners, but also for teachers, who are freed up to the parts of their job they love.
The benefits don’t just stop at school, however. The traditional business learning model – train once for life – has its problems, too, and at its worst, actively prevents further wealth creation and progress. With some industries requiring several years of training, we should be looking to use emerging technologies to build more effective, career-long education programmes into workplaces.
The future of humans and Artificial Intelligence is one of growing together. Whilst we’re still a little way off from human-machine hybrids, it’s a reality, not a pipedream. Whatever the timescale, the possibilities Artificial Intelligence brings to education are fascinating, and the revolution is already well underway.