Think Hearts not Brains: The Message from AI to Teachers

I have a green book published by O’Reilly that I picked up at a conference called What is Artificial Intelligence?. I got some pretty strange answers from my six-year old but he’ll soon learn that it will change the world as he knows it.  In a quest to understand the implications for education, I listened to Kai-Fu Lee, former head of Google China and entrepreneur.  He recently gave the commencement speech at Columbia University and said some surprising things about the future of AI.

Kai-Fu basically said that in ten years half of the jobs will be replaced by robots. We’ve heard this before but he made a pretty compelling case for why and described the role AI would play. He talked about the “phases of AI” starting with big data in getting better algorithms and better search, changes in the financial industry–he invested in an AI loan company that is only two years old and makes loans in a few seconds (this year is projected to make 30M loans), medical fields and on to intelligent computers.  He gave some crazy examples of how the entertainment industry will change and already has in China given the role of social media on a Sinica podcast recently! He argued that as AI gets better and we have more data, jobs will change in interesting ways.  He thought less about the change as replacing doctors [insert teachers here], for example, but growing the need for people who have feelings and are empathetic since AI/robots will never be able to do that.  As sappy as it sounds, he said “the most important part of the human body is not the brain but the heart.” This is coming from a hard core Computer Scientist.

He made me think about what might be possible and all the amazing roles teachers might be able to play when AI enters the classroom doors in a more substantive way. What if it were more about empathy than math someday?