The rise of robot teachers

She’s friendly. She’s a hard worker. She’s helpful and always available. She’s Amy—an AI-driven, robotic math tutor.

While she doesn’t walk or drive around a classroom, Amy takes after human tutors, and teaches in an interactive way. Osnova, the tutoring company that created Amy, recently added her first version of dynamic teaching, which allows her to understand why students make mistakes, and then enables her to automatically teach them what they need to learn to fill the gaps.

So far, Amy prototype has been trialled in 10 different high schools across New Zealand. Raphael Nolden, co-founder and CEO of Osnova, says his team has not yet done full analysis of the data from the first trials. When they do, they’ll gain the “most interesting and insightful learning then.”

“If you make a mistake, while doing an integration exercise Amy will know why you made the mistake, which is probably some error in your algebra,” Nolden explains. “Then she’ll teach you this specific thing before she goes back and checks that you can now solve this sort of problem.”

I think we will see humans and AI working in symbiotic relationships, where they are able to provide something much better together than either could do on their own.. Osnova will be adding automatic revision into Amy’s system soon, and will follow up with more extensive trials so these features can be individualized, based on the user’s learning behavior. The company will also be releasing a teacher interface for Amy, and developing a content automation system.

So, Amy sounds great. But is there anything missing? Can she replace a human teacher?

Nolden says the question of replacement is the “wrong question to ask.”

“I think we will see humans and AI working in symbiotic relationships, where they are able to provide something much better together than either could do on their own,” he says. “We have already seen this in other fields, and I think this will happen in education and medicine in the near future. We will see humans doing the things humans are good at such as empathy, motivation and inspiration, while the AI takes care of the mechanics of the teaching: delivering individualized teaching to each student, which has been optimized for them, based on the extensive teaching experience of Amy, and taking care of the tedious task such as marking and reporting.”

Nolden adds sharing of tasks also means that teachers can be more effective, because they’ll have more time to spend on overseeing their students’ progress and long-term goals, while robotic teachers provide them with the data they need to be more effective.

What about students with special needs? Can robots teach them just as well?

In the case of autistic children, Richard Margolin, CTO of the Dallas-based company RoboKind, says yes.

On a mission to help cultivate diverse and inclusive education, RoboKind has created Milo, a socially advanced robot that uses RoboKind’s Robots4Autism program to help autistic kids tune into emotions, show empathy, act appropriate in social situations, increase self-motivation and generalize in the population.

“Kids with autism have trouble engaging with people and have trouble making progress in traditional therapy, but they are able to engage with technology and especially robots,” says Margolin. “So kids who have had little success with traditional therapy can make tremendous, life changing progress working with Robots4Autism and Milo after only a few months. We have seen kids go from years of full-time, intensive special ed to being able to be in normal classrooms after only a few months of working with Milo.”

According to RoboKind’s website, Milo’s effectiveness with ASD learners is at 70 percent, compared to three percent for traditional therapy.

When Katie Hill, principal of KIPP Truth Elementary School in Dallas, TX, implemented Milo and Robots4Autism into her students’ curriculum, she observed immediate results in the children. Some of the improvements include:

• student-to-student confrontations were eliminated

• self-regulation was demonstrated by all participating students

• All students showed improvement in social interactions

• academic gains immediately followed self-regulation

• students effectively used calm down tools

• IEP goals are now being regularly achieved.

At the McCarthy Teller School in Spartanburg, SC, eight out of 17 students who worked with Milo showed improvements in their scores. And five to six of those students will start the school year in a mainstream classroom.

What are other benefits? It’s all about the individual.

Eric Shuss, who is a senior manager at 4th-Law, a partner of RoboKind, has been working to deliver education to children through AI for years. He says technology is allowing companies and educators to work with a student’s individuality.

“Every child is so unique, and we are finally at a point in time when we can create the exact right personalized environment to optimize a child’s potential,” says Shuss. “Artificial general intelligence and robotics are creating the perfect technology enhancements to complement educational techniques in the future.”

Make no mistakes about it. Robots are catching up to the human race. Osnova, RoboKind and 4th-Law are making the most of this reality, and creating the future.