Intelligent machines will replace teachers within 10 years, leading public school headteacher predicts

Human tutors will be sidelined in near future as AI takes central role in education, suggests Sir Anthony Sheldon of Wellington College

John von Radowitz
Monday 11 September 2017 08:30 BST
The role of teachers in the classroom will change dramatically, according to Sir Anthony Sheldon
The role of teachers in the classroom will change dramatically, according to Sir Anthony Sheldon

Inspirational teachers of the future will be intelligent machines rather than humans, the influential head of one of Britain's most famous public schools predicts.

Within 10 years a technological revolution will sweep aside old notions of education and change the world forever, Sir Anthony Sheldon, master of Wellington College believes.

School teachers will lose their traditional role and effectively become little more than classroom assistants.

They will remain on hand to set up equipment, help children when necessary and maintain discipline, Sir Anthony said.

However, the essential job of instilling knowledge into young minds will wholly be done by artificially intelligent (AI) computers.

Sir Anthony, a historian and political commentator who has written biographies of ex-prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair, John Major and Gordon Brown, said: “It certainly will change human life as we know it.

“It will open up the possibility of an Eton or Wellington education for all.

“Everyone can have the very best teacher and it's completely personalised; the software you're working with will be with you throughout your education journey.

“It can move at the speed of the learner.

“This is beyond anything that we've seen in the industrial revolution or since with any other new technology.

“These are adaptive machines that adapt to individuals. They will listen to the voices of the learners, read their faces and study them in the way gifted teachers study their students.

“We're looking at screens which are listening to the voice of the student and reading the face of the student. Reading and comprehending.”

Sir Anthony outlined his vision in a talk at the British Science Festival which took place last week in Brighton.

It will also be the subject of his new book The Fourth Education Revolution, due to be published early next year.

The first revolution consisted of learning the basics of survival - foraging, hunting, growing crops and building shelters - he said.

The second involved the first organised sharing of knowledge and the third was marked by the invention of printing.

In the AI classrooms, each child will progress at his or her own pace, said Sir Anthony.

There would be no more set courses applicable to all students as teaching, carried out by emotionally sensitive machines, would be highly personalised.

Asked if he was suggesting machines would replace the inspirational role of teachers, he said: “I'm desperately sad about this but I'm afraid I am.

“The machines will be extraordinarily inspirational.

“You'll still have the humans there walking around during school time, but in fact the inspiration in terms of intellectual excitement will come from the lighting-up of the brain which the machines will be superbly well-geared for.

“The machines will know what it is that most excites you and gives you a natural level of challenge that is not too hard or too easy, but just right for you.”

He expected the National Union of Teachers to be “very alarmed” by the prospect, a feeling he shared.

“The technology's already beginning to arrive,” he said. “It's already there on the west coast of the US and it's already beginning to transform schools.

“I'm expecting this to happen in the next 10 years.

“The great danger is that it takes jobs away, and for humans beings much of our fulfilment in life comes from the satisfaction of work.

“We're not hard-wired not to work.

“If we get the technology wrong it will end up doing everything for us in the same way that satnavs mean we no longer know how to read maps.”


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