If you’ve ever heard the term artificial intelligence (AI for short), then you’ve likely had one of these three reactions:
- Fear: The spectrum of fear ranges from SciFi dystopian terror that Hal or Skynet or the Matrix will take over to general unease that a robot might “take” your job away.
- Optimism: Again this is a spectrum that ranges from eager anticipation of self-driving cars or an operating system that can be more than a friend to the ho-hum convenience that Amazon or Netflix recommendations provide us on a regular basis.
- Confusion: This is the most common reaction to the term AI, which is misused by most and misunderstood by even more.
First, let’s clarify what we mean by artificial intelligence:
- Narrow AI: This is the technology of today that can beat the best humans in games like Chess or Go. The technology of “Deep Learning” is extraordinary in its ability in a single narrow domain. All you need is a lot of data and a lot of computer processing power. This is the AI of today that can play games, diagnose some diseases, and even drive a car... but each of those programs is bespoke and unable to do anything other than what it was trained to do.
- General AI: This is the technology of the future (at least 30 years from now) that can learn just like a human and is capable of both conversation and even abstract thought.
When I say AI in this blog post, I am referring only to Narrow AI. If you want to learn more about General AI, I suggest you read this post by my Harvard classmate Tim Urban, or listen to a few short videos by President Obama on the the future of AI. POTUS knows what he is talking about here and lays out the broad strokes very clearly!
The Future is now
One of the first big AI headlines of the ‘90s was when IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov to become the world’s greatest chess player. It was a decisive moment in the history of technology. The fascinating part of this breakthrough moment of technology is what happened next. Instead of fading away into irrelevance or becoming an event strictly for luddites, chess tournaments have evolved.
Now, chess tournaments take place as a hybrid contest where every human has an AI advisor. Together, these “cyborg” chessmasters are transcending the abilities that either human or computer could achieve alone, and they are getting better by the day. Instead of entering an age where AI is replacing humans, we are systematically embracing technology that augments our unique human abilities.
This is taking place in more than just chess tournaments, too. Every time you fly in a commercial airplane, an AI program does the bulk of the work. The pilot is merely there to supervise and assume control if something goes wrong. Because of this human-machine collaboration, flying is far safer than driving.
Speaking of driving, new cars also have all manner of intelligent cruise control and automatic braking to make our lives safer. Taking those innovations one step further, Uber and Tesla are leading the way in building self-driving cars that will dramatically reduce accidents on the road.
And within five years, most tractor trailers on the highway can be driven by AI, which will never get tired or need a bathroom break. This innovation will bring dramatic increases in efficiency to global shipping with far fewer accidents.
Twenty years from now, the next generation of children will learn about 20th-century automobiles and ask, “Did you really get behind the wheel of a car and careen down the highway? Didn’t people die all the time?”
“Yes,” we’ll reply, hardly able to remember. “It was among the leading causes of death in our society.”
What about all the jobs that will be lost?
Like all revolutionary technologies — trains, automobiles, phonograph, radio, and internet — certain jobs (like cobbler or encyclopedia salesman) will be marginalized. Meanwhile, new and unexpected jobs (like UX designer, blogger, and programmer) will emerge.
“If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.” -- Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Ideo and Wired magazine
Imagine if every teacher and counselor had their own AI assistant able to liberate them from the repetitive mental tasks that often keep them from doing the meaningful work that adds the most value to students’ lives.
Like top chess players today, each educator could do his or her job in tandem with a virtual assistant able to dramatically increase their efficiency. In fact, this is exactly what AdmitHub does for college counselors.
What can AI do for me?
Like a microscope or telescope, AI has the capacity to magnify our existing abilities. In the case of AdmitHub, we’re particularly focused on providing every student with personalized attention in the form of a text message conversation.
(Percival Lowell Photo source: Wikipedia)
Instead of sending and responding to thousands (and even millions) of message manually, our AI handles nearly 98 percent of the one-to-one communication. Every message is logged and all student data is recorded. Best of all, in those moments when a student needs the guidance and expertise from a human, the AI will reach out for help and flag the relevant contact.
Right now, AdmitHub’s technology can automatically remind students about deadlines, gather important information, and provide more than 1,000 answers to tens of thousands of student questions about college, college admissions, and financial aid. Best of all, our technology is getting smarter every day as it learns from the counselors it is designed to support. We have already proven our ability to impact student outcomes with a recent research study in partnership with Georgia State University.
Because we keep our communication simple and do not require students to have a smartphone or download an app, AdmitHub is able to engage unprecedented numbers of students and significantly improve outcomes among those with the greatest need for support, such as first-generation or low-income students.
What can I do for AI?
The dawning of the AI age will prove more significant than any other technology to date. Although the technology today is better than any time in history, it has a long way to go.
Like raising a child, AI needs time to mature, and its development will require the concerted effort of an entire industry to achieve its potential. As Hillary Clinton would say, “It takes a village.”
In education, in particular, AI needs the support and collaboration of counselors, teachers, and administrators everywhere. The journey will not be fast or without its stumbles, but the promise of every student enjoying 24/7 access to the collective wisdom of the world’s best educators is within sight.
If you believe that vision is worth striving for, the question you need to ask yourself is not, “What can AI do for me; but rather what can I do for AI?”