Many physicists, futurists, and scientists have made predictions about what they believe will cause the end of the world as we know it. Some foretell of a nuclear war that will plunge the earth into darkness, wiping out all life above the surface. Others hypothesize that a supervolcano will erupt and decimate the population. Some even believe the demise of the human species will stem from the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and that, in future worlds, machines will take over and eliminate human beings.
Although killer robots roaming the earth, crazed with bloodlust, may sound like science fiction, some experts are betting that AI may be coming for our paychecks sooner rather than later. According to one report from CBS, Kai Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist who invests heavily in AI technology firms, believes up to 40 percent of jobs could become obsolete through the use of AI in as little as 15 years.
“AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs, not just for blue-collar work, but a lot of white-collar work,” said Lee while speaking on 60 Minutes, according to CBS. “Chauffeurs, truck drivers, anyone who does driving for a living—their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15-25 year time frame.”
Although industrial and machine operator jobs may be obvious candidates for replacement by AI, Lee predicts that the education sector will see a mass influx of AI technology as well. Currently, Lee is placing his hopes (and cash) in several Chinese companies that are working on integrating AI technology into classrooms and online learning environments. According to Lee, AI explicitly designed for schools could “create a student profile and know where the student got stuck so the teacher can personalize the areas in which the student needs help.”
China isn’t the only country with startups pioneering educational AI systems. Several firms in the U.S. and the U.K. are currently marketing early examples of educational AI programs, according to a report from Built In. One such company is Knewton, a New York City-based enterprise presently developing a program they call “Alta,” which is designed to be a one-stop shop for online learning at the collegiate level. According to the company’s website, Alta is a “fully integrated, adaptive learning courseware” program offering “text-based and video instruction, interactive learning content, assignments, and review materials. The most revolutionary aspect of Alta may be its low price of just $44. Compared to the $1,200-per-year average American college students spend on textbooks and materials, Alta is a real bargain and a selling point for institutions looking to decrease the number of student loans their pupils are required to borrow.
Another company, Cognii, is currently marketing its AI system called EdTech. According to the company’s website, Edtech is designed to help personalize lessons to the individual student based on their performance and unique learning styles. The program also comes with “intelligent tutoring, open response assessments, and pedagogically rich analytics,” which can help cut down on the individual teacher’s workload. Currently, EdTech is designed for deployment at K-12 schools as well as post-grad studies and corporate training environments.
Corporate training can easily be modified for government applications. The U.S. military hands out at least a dozen odd contracts a week, and the value of these contracts can range from just a few thousand dollars to multi-billion-dollar long-term deals. However, the government is (or should always be) on the lookout for opportunities to cut costs. With the relative affordability of AI-based training software, these firms may be primed to win big government awards providing a litany of training programs across multiple agencies.
Educational AI has a long way to go before it becomes standard practice, but this means these firms are actively searching for investors. Although many of these companies are currently privately held, the predicted proliferation of AI into schools could mean huge profits for educational AI firms sometime in the not-too-distant future.
“I believe [AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity,” Lee said.