As the UK’s first Institute for Ethical AI in Education is launched, Charley Rogers investigates its immediate aims, and why co-lead Sir Anthony Seldon believes now is an essential moment in AI development.
The dangers of AI is a big topic everywhere at present, from an article in the Times giving advice to parents about the use of AI in schools, to the much-covered launch of educationalist and writer Sir Anthony Seldon’s latest book, The Fourth Education Revolution. It is, in fact, Sir Anthony Seldon himself who, alongside Professor Rose Luckin OBE and Priya Lakhani, is leading the UK’s very first Institute for Ethical AI in Education (IEAIED).
Based at the University of Buckingham, where Sir Anthony Seldon holds the post of Vice-Chancellor, the institute will conduct research into how AI is used in education, and how ethics plays into its deployment. The institute was launched last month at Speaker’s House, where Sir Seldon was joined by AI in education scientist Professor Luckin, and social impact entrepreneur and founder of CENTURY Tech, Priya Lakhani.
The thought behind launching the IEAIED is that AI is increasingly becoming a major part of everyday lives in the West, especially through personal devices, and even in education. The use of various recognition software is what makes smartphones so intuitive and useful, as well as heavily playing into common household tech such as Alexa and Amazon’s Echo. Data analysis is one usage of AI that is making strides in personalising education right now, and it is these kinds of positive advances that are welcome, says Sir Anthony.
Speaking directly to My Good Planet, he commented: “There are wonderful opportunities that AI is going to offer for children to have access to the riches of human arts and human sciences, ability to conduct experiments, and to visit places in the universe, virtually or places on earth.” The ability for technology to improve education for a wide variety of students, including those that may be hampered by geographical location, physical or mental illness, or for social or economic reasons from accessing ‘mainstream’ education, is enormous, explained Sir Anthony.
However, there are also significant concerns surrounding AI, and this is where the IEAIED comes in. A press release from the University of Buckingham in October stated that the institute will ‘examine the purposes of a person’s education, in order to ensure that AI in education does not prioritise certain aspects of learning at the expense of others, which can distort the process of learning and human development.’ It is this focus on human development that Sir Anthony stressed while speaking with MGP: “What we’re doing at the moment is using humans, in the form of teachers, to teach humans – the students – to become more like machines,” he said. However, what is needed, he argued, is for “humans to teach humans to become more fully human. What we need is to have a much deeper understanding of what the unique human experience is.”
As well as improving the deeper ethos of education, there are surface benefits to the use of AI. In the official press release, Professor Rose Luckin commented: “Ethical, thoughtfully designed and implemented AI could save education: from tackling the global teacher shortage to providing high quality education for everyone.” This ability to democratise access to education is absolutely ground-breaking, and something for which the IEAIED could conceivably make way.
However, Sir Anthony explained that these incredible opportunities presented by AI depend heavily on humankind “getting it right.” This, he said, means ensuring that AI is not left unregulated and unwatched: “To get it right means that we are going to have an enormous enrichment of the human experience, particularly for students,” he said. And he is not the only one wary of the negative effects of AI. In his latest book, the late, great Professor Stephen Hawking suggested that AI could be man’s last invention, because, paraphrased Sir Anthony, “it will eat us alive, with technology creating itself.”
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Despite the institute’s clear remit of the education system, the interest in understanding the human condition also goes beyond the education sector, including the power of technology and AI to make people happy. Technology has the power to stave off some of the more common causes of unhappiness, such as loneliness and boredom, explained Sir Anthony, and as such it seems likely that the IEAIED will have wider social ramifications in ensuring the wellbeing of people the world over.
But what can everyday people do to help ensure that AI doesn’t get out of control? Since the institute’s team are yet to have their first meeting, Sir Anthony is hesitant to predict what conclusions may be drawn: “I have an idea of what some of the issues are, but until we meet I’m not sure what is going to be decided,” he said.
However, focusing on the human side of life, both at home and in educational settings, is essential, he suggested. “Schools – and we ourselves – should have plants in our homes, we should have animals, children should look after animals, schools should have animals.” It is these ‘real-life’ elements that allow children to grow up with a balanced view of the world, he said, and will allow them to ultimately be more happy, and more secure in their lives. Educators, parents and guardians should, therefore, ensure that “children are not living in the world of cyberspace, that they know the difference, [and] that they have a really good sense of how to discriminate [between the two].”
The institute will convene for the first time later this year, and will release an interim report in December 2019, and a final report in December 2020.
Advisory members of the IEAIED board include Lord Clement Jones, Sir Tim O’Shea, Geoff Barton, Sherry Coutu, Gi Fernando, David Puttnam, Fiona Boulton, Vivienne Durham, Lucy Heller, Alan Winfield, Essie North and Ann Mroz.
For more information, visit the IEAIED website.