Tue, 30 May 2023



Should AI replace teachers?
Published on: Sunday, May 21, 2023
By: Prof Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman
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Teachers in Malaysian classroom.
OFFICIALLY, I have not been a student for more than 20 years. Many of my teachers who taught me in school, college and university have left and the rest have grown older with age.

Occasionally, I run into some of my former teachers. These chance encounters often lead me to reminisce about how they influenced me by imparting the fundamental principles of life. Their presence fills me with warmth and joy, and I am grateful for their impact on me.

I wonder if I would have had similar experiences had I had AI (Artificial Intelligence) as my teacher, since it would be more knowledgeable and efficient compared with my human teachers. I also wonder if I would have any emotional attachment to my AI teacher in my later life.

The important question is whether I would be able to cherish the nostalgic moments with AI as I do with my past teachers.

AI can also be programmed with emotions. In the 2001 science fiction film A.I., directed by Steven Spielberg, the iconic humanoid character David was equipped with emotions such as love and jealousy. Despite being a robot, David continued to plead with the Blue Fairy to turn him into a real boy even after 2,000 years since his creation.

That science fiction movie gave us a glimpse of reality in 2021. Engineered Arts developed the humanoid robot Ameca, which is capable of responding with emotional expressions and facial gestures. And now ChatGPT has become the central topic of conversation everywhere.

Although the rise of AI brings optimism, it also brings frustrations. Bill Gates envisions that AI chatbots will help students to identify areas in which they need to improve, a function that human teachers currently carry out. The Khanmigo project, based on GPT-4 and created by Khan Academy, is an example of how AI can work alongside human teachers. 

However, this optimistic outlook is not without its challenges. Nevertheless, AI may eventually replace human teachers.

The frustration with the sudden rise of AI and the emergence of ChatGPT prompted more than 1,100 notable tech giants, including Elon Musk, to express their caution in an open letter.

The letter reads: “Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop non-human minds that may eventually outnumber, outsmart, replace us and make us obsolete? 

Should we risk the loss of control of our civilisation? Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.”

AI has replaced the human workforce in many industries and will continue to do so. Low-paying jobs, including customer service and receptionists, as well as high-paying jobs, such as coders, computer programmers, software engineers, data analysts, content creators, technical writers, journalists and legal assistants, are at the top of the list of being replaced by AI-based machines.

Many accept this reality as a threat to human survival while others see it as a sign of progress, with a wider opportunity for further development.

Being in academia for more than 25 years and having an open mind to emerging technologies, I wonder if we should attempt to replace teachers too with AI. 

It can be justified and not difficult to do because a machine, with better knowledge and skills, will be more equipped than a human to train students.

Knowledge and technological advancements are keys to civilisation’s progress but can the immensity of knowledge and advanced skill that AI provides suffice for the progression of humanity?

Will a machine be able to teach us the purpose of life with the warmth and emotion of a human? Would knowing a real-life experience from a human point-of-view or programmed machine be the same?

David’s emotion and Ameca’s expression touched us because those are human attributes and not machines. Our emotional attachment to David and Ameca bespeaks our inherent wanting for bonding. That makes human interactions and bonding imperative for human existence.

Ironically, in this digital era, while we seem to be more connected with each other through social media, we have imprisoned ourselves and become more secluded by spending more time alone with our digital gadgets.

Our emotions are more promptly and efficiently expressed with digital emojis than our warmth and actions. This is a sign of us losing human bonding.

Would introducing AI as a teacher be one step towards the end of human bonding, which is imperative for life?

“The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple among his followers gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise, he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” (The Prophet (1923) by Khalil Gibran).

The writer is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education) at the Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya.

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Prof Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]


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