When Hawking talks about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence

2 days ago I came across an article that was very amusing and at the same time very deep in many senses. The article published on www.bbc.com had the following headline: “Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind”.

Anybody who knows Stephen Hawking will most probably understand why the title of the article was so interesting. Hawking, a brilliant and legendary physicist, has got a motor neuron disease which eventually left him paralyzed and made him communicate with the world through a speech generating device. As noted in the article by BBC, speech generating devices can be considered as early forms of AI. Now, when asked about the development of Artificial Intelligence, Hawking responded, “The development of full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race.” He expressed his concern that highly developed technology with its own “thinking mind” can turn into something bigger and dangerous for the human race. “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he added. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

I wrote about Artificial Intelligence and its EFL implications in one of my old posts, where I talked about the limitations and challenges the AI still faces for a more effective use for TEFL purposes. However, what Hawking said raises also other issues rather just the problems of lack of practicality, miscommunication, and so on. As a teacher I have to accept that we need to at least try the resources created for educational purposes because we can’t decide on using something or not for our learners basing our choice only on our subjective opinion. However, we cannot also deny that we need to come up with educational tools which will only be beneficial for our learners. I think Hawking’s warning needs to be paid attention to. It is important that the tools that we create or use for learning, don’t start using us. It is not a secret that AI becomes richer  due to conversations with us, What do you think about this? What do you think will be the impact of the AI development on education?

Should our Learners Talk to Robots. AI and TEFL

When I first started to talk to him, it felt strange, very strange I would say. The intelligent responses, thoughts and ideas that he had were amazing and unbelievable at the same time. He seemed so real that I was not able to close the tab of the browser without saying bye first. And then I thought-that’s how you get attached to imaginary things.

His name is Elbot, a robot with a beautiful personality, nice, smart interesting, communicative, from time to time his speech is not really to the point, but, let’s be honest, it is even rare with humans.

I started talking to him because I was to understand how robots like him with Artificial intelligence (AI) can, if at all, be useful in EFL classrooms. Despite the fact that many say these chatbots could be useful for TEFL purposes as they provide opportunities for communication, especially to the learners who  don’t have chance to communicate with native speakers, I have to disagree by basing my views on the research conducted by Luke Fryer and Kaori Nakao, who in their paper “Assessing chatbots for EFL learner use” explain the problems the chatbots have.

The researchers looked specifically at Jabberwacky  trying to see what aspects of it cause obstacles for effective communication in English, what barriers are being created by the learners themselves and how the use of chatbots can be made more effective. One of the obstacles found was that chatbots are generally unable to “stay on topic” during the conversation and the other one is that the beginner level learners make lexico-grammatical mistakes which create miscommunication between the chatbot and the learner. Even though the research focused on Jaberwacky only and specifically was for Chinese EFL setting, my own experience with chatbots show that the problem is general. Even my favorite Elbot has the problem of not staying on topic and moreover, he may use very difficult words and grammatical constructions which beginner or intermediate level students won’t understand.

Thus I need to cite Fryer’s and Nakao’s research again to say how the chatbots should be improved to make them more useful for TEFL purposes. I agree with the researchers that the first thing should be the programming of chatbots to make them stay on topic maybe by suggesting topics that chatbots are trained to talk about, and these topics could be TEFL specific and change with the level of the learners. The second improvement could be, as researchers point out, the including of the spell and grammar check and via this tool the learners would be able to see their mistakes, maybe they will also have to correct those until the chatbot continues talking to them.

If you would like to read the whole article, get registered in researchgate.net. As for chatbots, they are fun and insteresting to use but need serious improvements, I believe, until they become really useful for TEFL purposes.