Will AI replace Teachers?
Teachers, perhaps more than anyone, are already tangibly feeling the effects of AI.
Almost out of nowhere, following the launch of ChatGPT in November, students across the world began turning in assignments and papers generated entirely by AI. There's even been a South Park episode about it...
As a Teacher, you’d be forgiven for perhaps being concerned regarding your own position in an AI world. If AI is powerful enough to generate convincing essays, what will AI be able to do in future? More relevantly, what could AI mean for the entire teaching profession?
As a futurist and parent, it’s a subject I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.
At the risk of front-loading my conclusion, teachers should not be worried about AI taking their jobs, but the job itself will see changes, and it's going to have a major impact on the students that teachers are teaching.
The short term challenge
In the short term, the biggest challenge faced by teachers is identifying assignments that have been AI generated. I won’t go into this subject in depth, teachers have already been discussing the problem in staff rooms for months. Indeed you can go back years in the context of other Internet-based plagiarism, contract cheating, etc.
Teachers have been coming up with their own solutions and strategies to counter this issue already, but it’s come to the fore in a dramatic way with mainstream use of ChatGPT.
In the interest of completeness, here are the most common strategies for dealing with generative AI:
In class assignments - Having students write essays in class periodically is a robust way to assess students’ current knowledge and writing level. Of interest, from a technology perspective, this in-class work could be used by a suitable AI plagiarism tool, to compare against a body of work done outside of class by a student. In this way it's possible to evaluate whether prior work was done using AI. To this end, schools and universities may want to bank examples of students’ work for future.
Flipping the script - The traditional delineation of homework and classwork, can be turned 180, so that assessment is done primarily in class, with homework being used more for study. In this way, students can be encouraged to use AI tools as much as they wish, for the purpose of self-education, but know they are going to be tested on this in class.
Less essays, more presentations - For the time being, it’s trickier to generate a slide presentation with AI than it is to generate an essay. The tools for generative AI slide decks are coming and available, but far less mainstream at present (although this will change). What AI can’t displace is having students make presentations in class - this will never change. Something to think about, if you haven’t considered already.
Technology countermeasures - A cat and mouse game, but deploying AI to detect AI, or at least flag potential AI plagiarism is a fair approach, that many teachers and schools are experimenting with already. But the incidence of false positives and negatives are high, and for the time being most teachers will likely find it far more effective to make their own judgement, knowing the students and material as they do, and as teachers get better at detecting common AI writing patterns. But as it becomes easier (and more widely known) to train AI large language models on your own individual past writings, and thus learn your individual writing style, technological plagiarism detection will become more challenging, because the words will be in the same style as the student. The AI ‘makers’ like ChatGPT can (and probably should) offer solutions for teachers, such as the suggestion they provide their own 'back end' tool for teachers to check homework against, but again, this is a cat and mouse game as there will always be a new generative AI tool that doesn’t offer this. A better technological approach, as suggested above, is to combine periodic in-class assignments for the purpose of producing milestone ‘controls’, that could be compared against other homework.
Network countermeasures - Schools are already deploying blocks against AI tools on school campuses in some places, but with the proliferation of VPN’s, the use of phones, and the fact that the real source of the problem generally falls outside campus, as well as the need to use AI legitimately on campus, this is not a great option. In fact it’s arguably better to open up the network widely, and track the use of AI sites.
Harsh penalties - Suspensions and even expulsions for use of AI tools is contentious, but AI plagiarism should arguably be treated no different to other forms of plagiarism. If a couple of students were to be expelled from school for using AI, other students would quickly get the message that AI plagiarism is not ok.
Education on appropriate AI use - Confronting the elephant in the room with students, and educating them on appropriate targeted use of AI is a valid approach, and works for some students. It won’t work for all of course, but finding the right words and enlightenment to get students on the right track with AI, is what teachers do, and should really be a goal for every teacher. AI is going to be an inescapable part of society soon, and used widely in the workplace. The students of today are going to need to know how to use it effectively, and for productivity. Businesses are going to demand this.
To the Nth degree
So what does AI mean for teachers in the long term? What, if any, are the risks to teachers' jobs?
To consider this we need to project quite far into the future and consider what is coming down the pipe technology-wise. As a futurist, this is what I think on the most.
The reality is that there are two technology pathways that will combine with one another before long, in some truly sci-fi level and rather shocking ways.
The first is AI software - this is the large language models like ChatGPT, AI powered image recognition, and AI powered voice recognition.
The coming together of these two separate technology tracks will mean we are going to see in our lifetimes what sci-fi authors have been prophesying for 100 years, that is to say convincing walking and talking humanoid robots, out and about in society. At some point these will be indistinguishable from real humans.
Fortunately the day when humanoid robots become indistinguishable from real people is likely 30 years away, but walking and talking humanoid robots will be visible in mainstream life, and for example walking our streets delivering packages, in perhaps 15 years.
A pretty freaky thought.
One small concession is that such robots will be extremely expensive at first, so this won’t happen overnight. As with many new technologies, it will be businesses and the rich who will be the first to use them. Software based tools like ChatGPT and virtual AI assistants can be rolled out much quicker.
So with this somewhat alarming prospect and prediction on the table, could we see a day when humanoid robots take over the teaching profession?
Here are all the reasons I think this is very unlikely, at least for a few decades.
More than a profession
The role of a teacher extends well beyond imparting knowledge. Teachers inspire, mentor, and foster important personal connections with their students. Teachers know that it isn't merely about getting through a curriculum, but helping students grow as individuals. We only need look to Socrates, Rita Pierson, Marva Collins or Erin Gruwell, who demonstrated that a strong, human connection between teacher and student, is integral to the learning experience. Teachers do this every single day.
Teaching requires an exceptional level of emotional intelligence that AI can't replicate anytime soon. Teachers have the ability to identify their students' emotions, relate, and respond in an understanding way. In an era of growing mental health concerns, teachers act as crucial support systems, providing reassurance, empathy, and guidance.
Debate and Critical Thinking
An essential part of education is helping students develop critical thinking and debate skills. AI can provide an impressive wealth of targeted information, but it currently struggles to question its own reasoning, or engage in a thought-provoking discussion. A good teacher encourages students to challenge ideas, think independently, and participate in open debates.
Teachers as role models
Great teachers don't instruct, they inspire. Almost everyone can think of a teacher who left an indelible and lasting impact on their lives. That’s not likely to be forthcoming from a robot anytime soon.
The art of motivation
Great teachers possess a unique ability to motivate and encourage their students. Human motivation is complex, and what drives one student won't work for another. Teachers know this all too well and often adapt their approach to cater to a student's individual needs. This requires uniquely human skills such as empathy and life experience.
Teachers possess an incredible ability to adapt their teaching methods to cater to diverse learning needs. They regularly invent creative approaches to engage students and explain complex concepts in relatable ways.
Most of us have seen Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams demonstrates the power of creativity in education through his portrayal of an unorthodox English teacher. By standing on desks, ripping out textbook pages, and reciting poetry in a cave, he demonstrated that teachers can adapt to the unique needs of their students, ultimately making learning more memorable and impactful.
Finally, and arguably the strongest case that teachers’ jobs are fundamentally safe from AI, and likely for decades to come, is the simple and practical fact that… parents need a place to send their kids.
Parents have needed a break from their children since the ice age, and it's universal that parents generally want their kids to go to school each day.
Add to this factors like tradition; that parents generally want their kids to have the same experiences they did; and the fact that virtually no currently living parent would want a robot teaching their kids; and it all adds up to a towering rampart of protection against AI.
You can argue that highly personalized AI / virtual AI teachers will make it easier for some parents who are considering home schooling to do so, and this will have an impact, but the same concerns that have stopped parents from home schooling remain.
School is not just about learning, it’s a place where kids make friends and foster relationships with other... humans. This is not going away anytime soon.
AI is going to have a crater-sized impact on society, life in general, and the job market. It's not inconceivable that 80-90% of jobs will be lost to AI over the next two decades. Indeed many jobs like Photographers, Commercial Models, Graphic Designers, and Journalists are already being impacted. Many more will be soon.
AI will thus have a major impact on the future careers of students that Teachers are teaching now. AI itself brings challenges to the teaching profession in terms of plagiarism. Fundamentally however, as this article maintains, the job itself of a teacher is safe for a variety of reasons, not least of which the desire of parents to educate their kids alongside other kids, which is as old as life itself.
Conclusion: Extremely Safe | Time Period: Foreseeable Future