Will AI teach your kids or kill their minds?

Friday, 25 January 2019
London, UK
By Sam Volkering

  • A bit of personal history
  • The real industrial revolution factory
  • Is it time to shakedown our ideas on education?

High School was fun, enjoyable and easy for me. I glided through academically without huge input. Sure, there was a bit of study and homework, revision and plenty of tests. But on a scale of 0% to 100% of application, I’d give it a 75%. Sport was far more enjoyable and fun. If you ranked application there, it’d be up around 95%. 5:00 am water polo training sessions at the (outdoor) Brunswick pool in winter lay testament to that!

Fortunately the academic side of things went along swimmingly (excuse the pun) too. That score you get at the end of year 12 (it was the ENTER in my day) was good enough to give me some choices.

And ultimately it led me to a Commerce/Law degree. Why? Well to be honest, because the score was good enough, I decided that Commerce/Law would probably end in law or banking.

No kidding, that was the aim in the early days. The truth, however, is that I probably never really wanted to do either of those. Well, definitely not law — my heart was never in it.

And therefore university was a slog. Those years weren’t the greatest years of my life. I didn’t enjoy learning at university as much as I probably could have. The social life was fine. But the work was slow, boring and didn’t capture my imagination or intellect in the way it should have.

I eventually shook the law degree free after finishing about a third of it. I was never going to be a lawyer, so what was the point in doing a law degree in full and paying a shed-load more in tuition fees. Interestingly, after the law side of things was dropped, my grades took a distinct turn higher. All of a sudden credits and distinctions were the norm.

And it’s no great coincidence that Equities & Investment Analysis was my best subject in my final semester in my final year.

University for me at least was a means to an end. It was in essence a production line for white collar workers. It was and still is another by-product of the industrial revolution, except it wasn’t rolling machinery off the line, it was rolling out workers.

Accountants, bankers, advisors, managerial workers, administration, actuaries, analysts, money managers — the white collar brigade was the kind of product that the university helped create.

It was at the time a ‘necessity’. If you wanted to get a half decent job in anything non-trade related, you really had to have a university degree up your sleeve.

No law firm, finance business, engineering firm would even give your resume a second look if you didn’t have a university qualification. Without the degree, the workforce became a very limited place.

Today, the same rules really do apply in most cases. But I also believe that the entire education system is on the cusp of revolutionary change. It’s one of the last global industries that’s a remnant from the industrial revolution. And while methods and access to technology have changed in education, the production line of primary school, high school, technical college or university into the workforce hasn’t actually changed over the last 100 years.

But maybe it’s time to change radically. Maybe we’re now entering a new world of truly personalised education in the era of real-time connectivity, remote access and artificial intelligence.

More after the markets…


Overnight the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 22.38 points, or 0.091%.

The S&P 500 gained 3.63 points, or 0.14%.

In Europe, the Euro Stoxx 50 index finished up 14.18 points, or 0.46%.

Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 lost 0.35%, and Germany’s DAX gained 58.64 points, or 0.53%.

In Asian markets, Japan’s Nikkei 225 is up 209.04 points, or 1.02%. China’s CSI 300 is up 0.92%.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 is up 45.50 points, or 0.78%.

On the commodities markets, West Texas Intermediate crude oil is US$53.87 per barrel. Brent crude is US$61.87 per barrel.

Turning to gold, the yellow metal is trading for US$1,281.98 (AU$1,802.70) per troy ounce. Silver is US$15.34 (AU$21.57) per troy ounce.

One bitcoin is worth US$3,594.92.

The Aussie dollar is worth 71.10 US cents.

Can AI be expressive, or is it repressive?

I had an email thread with a colleague from Southbank Investment Research today. He flicked me over a link to an education platform his daughter had been using in her classes.

Thought you might be interested…

Susi has been using this in her classes: https://www.century.tech/the-platform/

From what she has said it’s really effective.


My question about it all is: if you know all of your interactions are being assessed by the AI…are you acting “artificially” and by acting “artificially” is it possible to receive real guidance or help by the AI? Make sense? The AI is helping the “best behaviour” pretend version of you that knows you’re being watched and assessed. It’s like being on a job interview…that’s not REALLY you, so it is often a meaningless exchange. I dunno?

I was curious. This in theory was the kind of thing that I was hoping would develop into the education system. A form of personalised education. You can’t expect that 30 kids in a classroom are all going to learn the same, absorb the same or even have the interest or aptitude for the same thing.

And for a teacher to customise 30 different learning plans and then spend sufficient time implementing each one with each child in each lesson is paramount to impossible. Teachers play an important role, but like any human their resources (physical and psychological) are limited.

Having a deeper browse through the Century platform, it did indeed seem like a great development in the delivery of education. For example the platform explains that it’s capable of helping individuals (and all users) track knowledge, skills, gaps in skills, focus and difficulty levels, pace of learning, preferences and apparently when something goes from short-term to long-term memory.

Furthermore, the system also plots the kids into quadrants as to who needs to stretch (be pushed a little), who needs praise for commitment, who needs to make more effort and who needs more support.

As Century explains, they combine learning science, artificial intelligence and neuroscience to deliver better education.

And then I got thinking about the email and the core of the question: Does this constant AI tracking just reinforce artificial behaviour from the student? And if it’s tracking everyone, and learning from everyone, then is it applying benchmarking to each individual according to the ‘greater knowledge’?

Also, while we use the term AI to explain the analytics of this, the truth is it’s really just advanced machine learning. It’s not true AI. True AI is ironically the kind of ‘intelligence’ that it’s tracking — child-like, unsupervised learning, the Holy Grail of true AI.

After thinking about it some more, I replied to the email from my colleague:

The danger with AI in learning, is that it continues to teach according to standardisations. If the masses are all analysed then while “personalised” you still get a very vanilla experience. It pushes everyone to the centre of the bell curve.

Unless these AI driven platforms personalise the education to foster independent thought and creativity and then expand on the potential curriculum from there, they are near useless for development. Sure they can teach the logic subjects, but how do they teach subjective things?

I think with AI in learning it can be a good thing — and the it will ultimately lead to personalised learning, but the real revolution will be in a home-school environment, not a classroom environment. School will be social to learn about teamwork, interacting with others, physical education, etc — but maths, sciences, language, literature, biology, the objective subjects can ultimately be accessed on platforms and taught at the home.

I think we’ll end up with a home-school revolution once the systems and platforms like this are in place on mass scale with the credibility of fulfilled education when it comes time to enter a workforce.

Education is still perhaps the most antiquated residual from the industrial revolution. The whole idea of going to school learning five or six ‘core subjects’ and then bolt-ons the older you get in order to go to a university that continues to teach you about one ever narrowing line of thinking. To then only enter the world and get a job that you’re probably not prepared for or which has nothing to do with what you just spent 16-or-so years of your life preparing for.

The idea of education to specialise in one major area at the end of it all is redundant in a world where lifelong careers will be as common as Nigel Farage and Donald Tusk dry-humping each other.

To be relevant in the future, be a polymath. Polymaths will rule the world, be one of those.

And maybe that’s the direction we should be heading with education. Why does it have to be the primary place for all learning? Of course it’s not ‘all learning’, but maybe we need to rethink the Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm (or whenever schools start and finish these days) system.

Why not use schools for the subjects and development no AI will ever be able to teach? Things like art, sport, drama, independent thinking, debate, creative writing — all the things that tap into the ‘intangible’ parts of the brain.

And for the rest of the ‘binary’ subjects — maths, science, technology, coding — why not utilise AI platforms and other non-school learning centres to build these knowledge bases? Maybe kids should only be at traditional ‘school’ half a week and the rest remote learning at home or ‘in the field’?

To build a better future we have to change the things that don’t work. And perhaps it all starts with the earliest forms of education.

That’s where real revolution is needed: with a complete shakedown of the system and people brave enough to break the status-quo and exist on the edges of the bell curve, not in the middle of it.