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7. Learning from Robots

 

Video: Heather Knight speaks at TEDxWomen about the future of robots.

Robots are becoming more ubiquitous in society. They fight wars, beat humans on game shows and even entertain us, as roboticist Heather Knight shows.

Can some subjects be better and more effectively taught by robots instead of human teachers?

“The most advanced models,” The New York Times reported in, “Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot,” by Benedict Carey and John Markoff, “are fully autonomous, guided by artificial intelligence software like motion tracking and speech recognition, which can make them engaging enough to rival humans at some tasks.”

Researchers say that the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming “infinitely patient, highly informed instructors.” Such bots aren’t just squirreled away in research labs, however. They’ve already been deployed in actual classrooms in multiple countries, including South Korea, where hundreds of robotic teachers aides have been “hired.” Some robot teachers even have a human face.

In the same issue of The New York Times, there’s yet another article, “Exacting Teaching Machine Sticks to the Script in South Korea,” in which Choe Sang-Hun reports that in South Korea’s “obsessive drive” to teach English to its residents, the nation’s budget has been stretched by the import of so many English speaking educators. Robots, however, are less expensive.

Enter “Engkey,” a penguin-shaped robot who “stands for progress, achievement and national pride” but not “bad pronunciation.” In three to five years, according to Choi Mun-taek of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Center for Intelligent Robotics, Engkey will be mature enough to replace native speakers.

“People are starting to form relationships with robots,” Ayesha Khanna of the Hybrid Reality Institute told us, citing a Japanese hologram rock star as an example.

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