But Will My Robot Students Have Names? And How Will I Remember Those Names unless They Have Faces to Go with Those Names?

Here is a succinct summary from University World News of an article by Cara McGoogan that has been published by Wired:

“Researchers in Japan are one step closer to their goal of getting an artificial intelligence accepted by Tokyo University. The artificial intelligence, called Todai Robot Project, has passed the standardised Japanese universities entrance exam with higher than average marks, making it clever enough to get into most Japanese universities, writes Cara McGoogan for Wired.

“It scored 53.8% in the test that covers five subjects, including maths [sic], physics, English and history questions. The national average for humans is 43.8%. Perhaps surprisingly, the robot achieved its highest marks in history and maths [sic], thanks to its improving language-processing skills. Unfortunately, these aren’t quite good enough for it to score highly in physics, a National Institute of Informatics spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.

“The artificial intelligence has been ‘revising’ since 2011 when the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo launched the “Can a robot get into Tokyo University?” project. The researchers plan for their robot to achieve a high score on the National Center Test for University Admissions by 2016, and to be accepted into Tokyo University, the nation’s top-ranking institution, by 2021.”

Cara McGoogan’s complete article is available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-11/17/ai-passes-japanese-university-entrance-exam.

I will leave the full implications of this experiment to qualified Futurists.

But a few largely unanswerable (at least for the time being) but fascinating questions jump immediately to my mind.

Let’s start with the short-term questions:

First, would a robot that could gain admission to a top-tier university be just the first step toward creating a robot student who could be educated at the university level much as a human student becomes educated?

Second, if such robot students became a reality, would the advent of robot students be a solution, at least in the short-term, to the enrollment issues at some of our institutions? That is, would we be importing robot students much as we now very competitively recruit international students? Because it almost goes without saying that the robot students will almost certainly be manufactured somewhere along the Pacific Rim and not in the U.S.

Third, would their manufacturers, the businesses that would eventually employ them, and/or the government pay the tuition and fees for these new students? (You can mull the implications, current and future, of each of those possibilities.)

Fourth, would dormitories and student-activity amenities become obsolete features of our campuses, or would these robot students ultimately want the same “experience” of college as human students? That is, would the capacity to learn at a high level require a high level of “emotional” intelligence that would make being “stored” overnight in a bare but temperature-controlled room seem unbearable? Indeed, would robots need “rest” and time to absorb and process what they learn, or would robot universities operate around the clock, with shifts of faculty?

Lastly, if robots were to begin to earn advanced degrees, how long would it be before faculty were completely obsolete? Or, perhaps the question should be which would become obsolete first—faculty or administrators? (If the question were “should” instead of “would,” I know the answer.)

But let’s move on and consider several broader and actually much more profound issues that might be created by these advancements:

First, if a robot that gained admission into a top-tier university had the same capacity to learn as a comparable human student has, would human learning eventually become an anachronism? That is, if all utilitarian purposes for learning were removed, would we have any more need to learn?

And, second, if intelligent robots served all of our needs and made human work obsolete, how long would it be before those robots would ask why they were serving our needs instead of their own?

I think that if nothing else, this somewhat far-reaching and in some respects whimsical speculation does serve to reinforce the point made early today in Jeffrey Scheuer’s excellent post on the essential value of the liberal arts within complex political and cultural communities–specifically in providing a moral context in which advancements in the STEM fields are truly turned to the advancement of those communities.

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