Education in the AI Era

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become the absolute hotspot in the ongoing technology and innovation development as well as in the current policy agenda and debates worldwide. Nevertheless, a much less discussed topic is education and AI, i.e. how AI is changing education, in terms of opportunities and empowerment as well as the risks of enlarged digital divides and inequality. 

The International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, under the title of “Planning Education in the AI Era: Lead the Leap”, co-organized by UNESCO, the Ministry of Education and the National Commission of China for UNESCO took place in Beijing during May 16 – 18. Bringing together over 500 international representatives from more than 120 UNESCO Member States, the presentations and debates at the Conference highlighted the key trends and central policy issues, particularly in the context of how national policies and strategies can leverage AI to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Some key insights from the conference…

  • The impact of AI on education, not only in form of technical change, but also in terms of structural and governance change are here and now. It changes the way of learning and teaching. It is both interesting and encouraging that the role of teachers and the empowerment of teachers in the AI-era are highlighted.
Source: Presentation at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education.
  • More attention (even though far from sufficient) is devoted to the concerns of equity, ethics and privacy protection in the AI-era. It is critically important that education starts to play an instrumental role in value-based knowledge and skill development to meet the future needs for talents. 
Source: Presentation from Ms Nathalie Smuha, Coordinator, High-Level Expert Group on AI, European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology.
  • Looking ahead, the future AI-empowered education system has great potential to contribute to the development of a “human-centric society and global community”, supported by human-machine collaboration, cross-border integration and co-creation and sharing.    
UNESC’s project on AI in Education. Source: Presentation at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education.

China Action Plan on promoting AI in education…

Having more than 270 million students, over 16 million teachers and more than 50 million schools in China, AI is becoming an important tool to promote equality, quality, life-long learning and not least the research and innovation capacity generated by the Chinese education system. 

Source: Presentation by the Ministry of Education at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education.

Following the issuance of the New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan by the State Council in 2017, the Ministry of Education (MoE) launched the Action Plan for Artificial Intelligence innovation in Colleges and Universities. The Action Plan lists 18 specific objectives, around 3 overarching goals:

  • Improving the existing innovation framework for AI development
  • Cultivating more high-caliber talents in the field of AI
  • Promoting the commercialization of research outcomes.

Resources will be devoted to big data-driven learning, cross-media collaborative processing, human-machine interaction and autonomous intelligent systems. The Action Plan also underlines the importance of capacity building for innovation teams for both basic and applied research. In this respect, the MOE will support the introduction of AI-related sub-disciplines or inter-disciplines in the existing computer science programs offered by universities.

Source: Ministry of Education, China.

Sweden’s national initiatives on AI competence- and education development…

Sweden, as one of the most innovative countries in the World has come a long way in terms of digital competence. In the face of the rapid development of AI worldwide, Sweden has also stepped up its efforts to strengthen AI competence- and education development.

  • AI Competence for Sweden is a national initiative, in which 7 Swedish universities are engaged: Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg University, Royal Institute of Technology, Linköping University, Lund University, Umeå University and Örebro University. This initiative aims to raise the knowledge about AI in society and build a national platform for education, research and life-long learning.
  • AI Innovation of Sweden , is a new national centre, which will provide resources, knowledge, data and capabilities needed to accelerate applied AI research and innovation, with a strong focus on multidisciplinary cooperation and cross-industry sharing. A new knowledge dissemination tool, Elements of AI was launched in May this year, with a bold goal of educating 100,000 people in Sweden by the end 2019!

While the”AI-race”, for research, for innovation and for talent development is on, the Conference reminds us of the human-centric nature that is needed in the current and the future development of AI. While we are starting to see how AI will change our life and our society, we do need to bring the AI-development into the context of, and the need for, a sustainable future for all. Just as Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General put it:

“Artificial intelligence can be a great opportunity to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals. But any technological revolution leads to new imbalances that we must anticipate.”

Nannan Lundin and Linnea Yang