Artificial Intelligence, Y U Follow Me?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the tendency to follow me wherever I go. Maybe I am to blame, since I first went to it when still studying at the universiy. I wrote my Master’s thesis in 1999 about software agents, which at that time were the main manifestation of AI.

These agents were supposed to start roaming the web delivering all sorts of interesting content to their masters, the web users. Then I moved on to researching the Semantic Web, which was intended to provide healthy food for these agents.

Next were context-aware mobile phone apps. The simplest form of context-awareness is based on the user’s location: provide the user with content which is relevant in her current place, e.g. nearby restaurants with good deals.

There are many more attributes describing the user context than mere location, however, and combining those into a meaningful framework is tricky. It’s so tricky that doing it right in my opinion requires quite strong AI. You’d have to know the user’s current goals, social surroundings, mental and physical state, etc. in order to provide her with the most suitable content and services.

I was able to hide from AI for a couple of years, working mainly on market research and social media. Now since more than two years I’ve been in education and AI has yet again found me, this time in the form of personalized learning.

Personalized or adaptive learning is a great goal to pursue! What better for a student than to provide him with the materials and solutions that best fit his skill levels and learning style preferences? By the same token, doing it all the way it is tricky. Very.

Complete understanding of the user context basically requires telepathy. As Nagel pointed out, one person cannot fully understand what it is like to be another person. It cannot be objectively communicated. Similarly for learning: students are unique individuals and facilitating each one best is (at least next to) impossible.

There are many things that can be done, however, and are actually being done already. Adaptive learning solutions are going to enter education the same way intelligence enters the automotive industry: slowly but surely, without us even noticing it.

If you would bring a modern self-parking car with cruise control and windshield wipers adjusting to the weather to say 1940s, locals would treat is as (artificially) intelligent device for sure. However, these innovations have emerged over time and that’s why we are reluctant to claim them as AI.

So keep calm and carry on, adaptive learning solutions are going to pop up here and there. It’s going to be an evolution, not revolution.

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