Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Google just announced an AI bot that could change teaching & learning…. consequences are both exciting & terrifying…

Bot reversal
Revealed during a Google conference, Google Duplex stole the show. They stunned the audience with two telephone conversations, to real businesses, initiated and competed by a bot. If anything, the real people in the businesses sounded more confused than the bot. The bots were from Google Assistant and delivered by Google Duplex. Note that this reverses the usual person speaks to bot. In fact, it’s hard to tell which one is real. Here, the bot is speaking to real people. We are about to see a whole range of things done by humans replaced by bots in customer service.
Lessons in learning
This reversal is interesting in education and training, as it supports the idea of a bot as a tutor, teacher, trainer or mentor. I've already written about how bots can be used in learning. The learners remain real but the teaching could be, to a degree, automated. Most of the time we talk to each other through dialogue. This is how things get done in the real world, it is also how many of us learn. Good teachers engage learners in dialogue. But suppose that bots become so good that they can perform one half of this dialogue?
This is a tough call for software. There’s the speech recognition itself. It also has to sound natural, but natural is a bit messy. I can say ‘A meal for four, at four’ – that’s tricky. On top of this, we go fast, pause, change direction, interrupt but also expect fast responses. This is what Google have tackled head-on with neural networks and trained bots.
Domain specific
Google Duplex does not pretend to understands general conversations. It is domain-specific – which is why its first deployment will be customer service over the phone. You need to train it in a specific domain, like hairdressing or doctor appointments, then encapsulate lots of tricks to make it work. But in domain specific areas, we can see how subject-specific teaching bots could do well here. Bots, on say maths or biology or language learning, are sure to benefit from this tech. There is no way the tech is anywhere near ‘replacing teachers but they can certainly augment, enhance, whatever you want to call it, the teacher’s role.

We’re not far off from bots like these being as common as automated check-outs and ATMs. I’ve been working on bots like these for some time and we were quick to realise that this ‘reversal’ is exactly what ‘teaching’ bots needed. There are some real issues around their use, such as our right to know that it is a bot on the other end of the line. And their use in spam calls. But if it makes our lives easier and takes the pain away from dealing with Doctor’s receptionists and call centres – that’s a win for me. If you’re interested in doing something ‘real’ with bots in corporate learning, contact me here….


Marius said...

As a technology geek, I always fantasized about how technology can be used in schools, especially emerging technologies (I have developed an educational AR app back in 2009).

But schools are a different world and new technologies have no chance of making it into schools until they get to mainstream adoption. Google Duplex won't stand a chance in schools until you have 95% of the people actually using it every day.

That's my take on it :)

Donald Clark said...

I agree. Hence my primary interest in learning ouside of educational institutions. Corpoate learning, I think, will lead the way here.

Curt Bonk said...

Thanks for the post Donald. Wow! Not enough academics are thinking about this yet. I also enjoyed your interview. This AI stuff is sure accelerating today...I had hoped to study it 30 years ago in grad school. It will be interesting assigning collaborative teams for activities in class in a decade when there are an assortment of such bots as well as more prevalent personal digital assistants and perhaps even robot partners in each group. It will be interesting to see what can be accomplished and who will report back and how.