I was having dinner with Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPrize (an exciting organization—Google it), and I asked him what his next big moonshots were. He said: education and healthcare.
“So, you want to reform education in America?” I asked. “No,” he said, “I want to crush it and replace it.” I asked him how he was going to accomplish that and he responded: “Artificial intelligence and virtual reality will revolutionize education.” He described a philosophy course where, through virtual reality and AI, you could actually talk to Socrates in the Greek Agora, asking questions of him and any other philosopher, and getting their answers.
But this is not something for the future—it already exists and is being refined.
One of the most interesting and exciting articles I’ve read is an opinion piece by Andy Kessler in the Wall Street Journal of Monday, May 22, 2023, “AI’s Education Revolution.” In the piece, Kessler relays conversations with Sal Khan, in which the Khan Academy founder reveals how the educational revolution is already taking place.
Three years ago, Sal Khan [of Khan Academy] and I spoke about developing a tool like the Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel “The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.” It’s an education tablet, in the author’s words, in which “the pictures moved, and you could ask them questions and get answers.” Adaptive, intuitive, personalized, self-paced— nothing like today’s education. But it’s science-fiction.
Last week I spoke with Mr. Khan, who told me, “Now I think a Primer is within reach within five years. In some ways, we’ve even surpassed some of the elements of the Primer, using characters like George Washington to teach lessons.” What changed? Simple—generative artificial intelligence. Khan Academy has been working with OpenAI’s ChatGPT since before its release last December.
Kessler goes on to share Khan’s plans for his own AI-based tool, Khanmigo.
Mr. Khan’s stated goals for Khan Academy are “personalization and mastery.” He notes that “high-performing, wealthier households have resources—time, know-how and money—to provide their children one-on-one tutoring to learn subjects and then use schools to prove what they know.” With his company’s new AI-infused tool, Khanmigo—sounds like con migo or “with me”—one-on-one teaching can scale to the masses.
Khanmigo allows students to make queries in the middle of lessons or videos and understands the context of what they’re watching. You can ask, “What is the significance of the green light in ‘The Great Gatsby?’ ” Heck, that one is still over my head. Same with help on factoring polynomials, including recognizing which step a student got wrong, not just knowing the answer is wrong, fixing ChatGPT’s math problem. Sci-fi becomes reality: a scalable super tutor.
Mr. Khan suggests, “There is no limit to learning. If you ask, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ you’ll get a short answer and then maybe, ‘But let’s get back to the mitochondria lesson.’ ” Mr. Khan thinks “average students can become exceptional students.”
Teaching will be transformed. Mr. Khan wants Khanmigo “to provide teachers in the U.S. and around the world an indispensable tool to make their lives better” by administering lessons and increasing communications between teachers and students. I would question any school that doesn’t encourage its use.
If you’re interested in education (aren’t we all?), you’re well aware of and concerned about the dire state of American education, which Kessler alludes to at the beginning of his piece:
The Journal’s headlines tell the story: “Eighth-Graders’ History, Civics Test Scores Hit Record Low.” “Fourth-Grade Test Scores Plummet.” “ACT Test Scores Drop to Lowest Levels in More Than 30 Years.” Plus, 67% of fourth-graders nationwide score below “proficient” on reading tests. Disgraceful.
Fabulous new technologies, such as Khanmigo, promise to revolutionize and hopefully save education—and thank God, before it’s too late.
Carl B. Barney
June 26, 2023