Module 7 e journal entry: Can teachers be replaced by humanoids in the classroom?

robot-teacher_1599830iComputers have significantly changed the landscape of the world in terms of doing business and communication, delivering health care and even educating people.  Because of its efficiency and reliability, business decisions can now be made in a few days which normally would take months of studies. In business, time is money; opportunity does not present itself twice so decisions have to be made in real time. Spread sheets and data bases in financial institutions have been so effective in decision making. In hospitals, robots are already used in various surgery procedures and have improved the health conditions of many patients.  High performing computers power up diagnostic machines like MRIs, CT scans, 3D sonograms that help doctors detect patients’ condition and aid them in designing a good treatment plan.  In the education industry, computers have become ordinary equipment. PCs, laptops, Tablets and notebooks capable of accessing the internet via 3G or wifi have become ubiquitous that almost everyone has them. The web has become everybody’s virtual library and university.

Movies like Artificial Intelligence by Steven Spielberg and I-Robot starring Will Smith were block buster films that have made millions by portraying robots like human beings. They are called humanoids.  Although, robots have been in the manufacturing industry for a long time producing car parts and other mass produced electronic parts and gadgets, they do not necessarily look like human beings.  I think that robots have evolved into humanoids because man has a dire need to relate and interact.  We are all social beings.

If computer powered robots are so effective and efficient, making them more dependable and predictable in terms of behavior since they can be programmed, can’t they replace teachers in classrooms?  I remember years back when some robots were programmed toteach English language to students in South Korea.  Although I agree that we cannot beat them at information storage and retrieval, they will still be dependent on us in terms of encoding information. As they say, garbage in,  garbage out. Whatever is your input defines your output. Computers cannot initiate encoding for themselves, at least for now as far as I know. But we do not hold the future.

Human beings learning and thought process is so complex that even the best artificial intelligence (AI) engineers and designers have yet to unlock the answers. This could be their ultimate goal and achievement – for robots to intellectually respond like humans. Humanoids do not have the understanding of the schema and concepts the human mind is capable of. It can only do what it has been programmed to do in a single dimension. It cannot create new ideas from its own thoughts and does not understand feelings. It may define it but not understand it. I remember in the movie Bicentennial Man(1999) starring Robin Williams who acted as a humanoid, the robot observed the girl cry and he asked what kind of emotion she was exhibiting. And he said that shedding tears is something he won’t be able to experience.

Cover of

Cover of Bicentennial Man

Unlike humans, robots do not have deep motivations and are not concerned with self-efficacy, self-worth. Therefore they too cannot be models for social learning and development. They are not capable of reflecting and choosing the kind of behavior that is appropriate based on values and feelings that human beings have.  They can only function within the limits of its program.  In class, an effective teacher needs to understand and take into consideration the dynamic mix of his students’ cognitive as well as affective domains, their learning styles, their internal and external motivating factors, their learning abilities and thought processes. I think in the future, humanoids may be very powerful tools to aid in the education process but they can never replace their human counterparts in terms of social learning and development.

Today however, technology has not yet come up with a robot that can replace the human teacher. But who knows? Only time can tell. As Albert Einstein says, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”  I am just glad that today I am not taught by a robot to have faith, to continue to hope and to always love.

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