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Artificial intelligence – the ethics of educating for consciousness

I look at young, new teachers on Instagram and they are sharing lots of ideas and websites for using AI in teaching. Good for them – teaching is a high-pressure job and saving time is essential. But in the twenty-first century how should teachers be teaching with AI? What should teachers be teaching with AI?

As a classroom teacher, I was involved in constant debate about whether the ‘Three Rs’ were still relevant. We are more likely to be involved in heated discussions about whether the so-called ‘Four Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – should now take curriculum’s centre stage. These are serious matters – ones that teachers themselves, most of whom were fashioned in ‘old-world’ educational models, may lack the skills, the intellectual or mental flexibility to deploy. Most teenagers already know more about IT and AI than their teachers. That trend is only likely to gather pace. Without an ethical framework provided by a professional class of people like teachers, what is to stop the technology of educational tools controlling the pupils? The evidence for such risks is already abundant. Look at the way we all, never mind young people, walk the streets like zombies glued to the screens of our mobile phones.

The likelihood that artificial intelligence (AI) will develop human-like consciousness is still some years away. However, new technology is changing everything we thought we knew about the way humans behave – the structure of groups and their identity, the nature of politics and economics, the idea of national cultures, the concept of the nation state – are all in flux. New technology is even challenging our views of the way the ‘architecture’ of our brain is ‘constructed’. For example, the internet is making it increasingly difficult for us to distinguish between truth and falsity yet it disseminates hatred and paranoia faster and more effectively than anything previously invented.

The questions this raises for becoming a teacher and the character of a teacher are many and varied. For instance, if we could educate our children better at home, should we do it? That’s a question people are increasingly asking, particularly in places like the US where a significant proportion of children are ‘home educated’ (and during the coronavirus pandemic when children all over the world were ‘home-schooled’ for months).

If we could educate children better through AI, should we do it? If Alexa and Siri can read a story to a child more efficiently or more empathetically than a teacher or indeed, a parent, should they? If AI can teach calculus more efficiently than a human, then why not have it dispense discipline and punishment as well? Why not have AI educate children about sex, relationships, gender, religious and racial tolerance? These are questions that will be increasingly asked in the coming years (as technology becomes more intuitive). They are not just practical or pragmatic questions – they are ethical and moral ones too.

This is an extract from Alan Newland’s book: ‘Becoming a Teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ – available now from Crown House Publishing with a 20% discount with the code ‘becoming20’



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