During the COVID pandemic, we watched online learning fail to deliver the results hoped for by education policymakers. We have not even understood what worked and what failed.
The digital age of virtual education can complement schools but will never be a replacement for traditional brick-and-mortar schools. For most students, there is no way to completely replace in-person teaching, social interaction, and emotional care and support. In hindsight, it is the best result.
Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard Reilly coined the term Virtual Distance to describe the “psychological distance created between people by an over-reliance on electronic communications.” They point out such items as loss of project success, innovation, satisfaction, trust, goal clarity, and leader effectiveness. We are creating psychological gulfs when we lose human interaction. Artificial intelligence (AI) is using all the data it has collected and is growing at a phenomenal pace.
A recent Goldman Sachs report asks whether we are at the brink of a rapid acceleration in task automation that will significantly save on labor costs, raise labor productivity, and increase the pace of economic growth. “The report found two-thirds of jobs are at risk due to AI automation, while AI could have the capability of directly accomplishing up to one-fourth of current work.” That is three hundred million jobs threatened in the U.S. and Europe. Do not think that public education is immune from automation.
Our workforce can look vastly different across many sectors in the future because of AI. IBM, the technology giant, will fill thousands of jobs with artificial intelligence rather than humans. CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg, that around 30% of about 26,000 non-customer-facing positions, like human resources jobs could be replaced.
In Tennessee, the Clarksville-Montgomery School System (CMCSS) filed a lawsuit against Meta, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Google, WhatsApp, and YouTube regarding an alleged lack of controls surrounding student access and appropriate content. They allege "damages and growing mental health crisis among students." One area they discuss is the algorithms that target kids. The lawsuit may take years in various courts.
Critics and insiders have raised the alarm over everything from biased algorithms to the possibility of massive job losses as AI-powered automation seeps into daily life. United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy reports that “social media use by young people is nearly universal, with up to 95% of young people ages 13-17 reporting using a social media platform and more than a third saying they use social media almost constantly.”
OpenAI chief Sam Altman and Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis were among the tech leaders warning AI could be as dangerous as pandemics and nuclear weapons. Some of the dangers include the risk of exacerbating existing biases and inequalities, promoting misinformation, disrupting politics, and upending the economy and job market.
In education, there are additional problems — miscommunication, lack of clearly defined roles, and even personal and cultural conflicts which can develop. There is an inability of AI to reliably sort facts from fiction in the language. While they were studying the business application, there is limited research in an education setting and it will need further analysis before policies are established and become entrenched in education policy.
The three significant issues for states to address virtual education are academic performance, lack of equity and access, and privacy concerns. In AI, Parents need much greater control over what information websites can collect from their kids. We are also concerned about algorithms that target children (and adults), as well as escalating mental health issues.
The lawsuit filed by the Clarksville-Montgomery School System against social media companies may create unintended consequences. It will also ignite a needed discussion about guidelines and necessary regulations for digital education, data collection, social media, and AI for addressing new and evolving technology.
Elon Musk warned at MIT’s Aero Astro Centennial Symposium: “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” This discussion needs to be a higher priority for policymakers and stakeholders alike. The demons are here.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee