So the blight of my Boomer generation, the self-appointed expert on everything because he watches The Learning Channel videos as he jogs on his treadmill in his 66,000 square foot mansion in Seattle, you know who I’m talking about, has now proclaimed that AI (Artificial Intelligence, the tech concept that drives chatbots across the internet) will replace human tutors and teach children more effectively how to read and write.

He never answered Steve Jobs’ question: Why would anyone want to make crappy products?

He gives it 18 months. (Hope you have a Plan B, teachers.)

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) gives it never. It ain’t gonna happen.

GOT is not sneering at Moore’s Law, which stated that the number of microcircuits on a chip would double every 18 months. That’s historically accurate and has driven the pace of innovation that saw computing power, memory storage, and cost improving over the last five decades.

If you’re old enough, you remember the early days of PCs (when they were still carried that acronym for personal computer) when file names were limited to 8 characters and clever schemes had to be devised to remember what each one was. The days when a 20-megabyte hard drive was cutting edge, but users still needed to use a compression utility to avoid running out of room. If you’re too young to remember that, those were the days of dial-up modems to get on the internet. It was expensive as users were charged by the minute. We worked offline to get everything ready before activating the modem to upload files, email responses, etc.

Those of us old enough to remember are grateful that Moore’s Law delivered to us cloud storage, terabyte hard drives, computers in our pockets (you might call them smartphones), and more. Technology improves and finds ways over its hardware and software challenges.

Thus, GOT does not doubt that eventually chatbots will be able to deliver the tutoring that the non-genius of our time foresees.

Do we have time for a tangent? Several years ago, GOT had a gifted child in his Algebra 2 classroom. As he observed the child interacting with his peers, GOT saw that he was indeed bright and had many capacities beyond the typical child of his age. He tried to help the other students with the algebra, but he often steered them wrong. Why? Gifted children are not necessarily gifted in everything. The day GOT talked to him about this, he was relieved. The pressure was off in his math class. He could settle back and be himself, learning at his own pace without feeling a responsibility for others.

The point? Bill Gates was brilliant at writing an operating system for personal computers, built a company whose product would work on multiple manufacturers’ versions of the personal computer, and dealt with the technological problems and consumer frustrations to the point where he became a billionaire, at one point the richest man in the world. But that accomplishment does not mean he is an expert in anything else.

He has made education a pet project of his philanthrocapitalism. Yet every initiative he has tried has failed. He may be a genius in computer technology and a successful businessman, but he is terrible at education at every level.

We must understand, then, that his prediction is sawdust if he is trying to talk as an education expert that he is not, but it may happen that AI becomes effective at providing tutoring, and if we are being honest, he has remedial tutoring in mind, for reading and writing.

GOT will not argue that because AI and chatbots are ineffective now means they will never be effective.

Already, the chatbots that struggled to pass standardized tests are now able to make a credible effort and achieve satisfactory scores. This is not evidence of the superiority of AI, but a scathing condemnation of the quality of standardized testing.

The prowess of AI-powered chatbots to scour the entire internet and soak up all that the web has to offer is not in question. Already, the businesses involved are refining the AI so the chatbots recognize and reject inappropriate or offensive language and ideas.

Absorbing the internet in seconds: Perhaps AI-powered chatbots won’t be Daleks and try to exterminate us?

Bill Gates argues the power of technology, a supply-side argument not heard since the 1980s.

That is not why it will fail.

Teachers scrambled very hard during the pandemic to provide instruction over the internet. Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Zoom, whatever, they used technological tools to reach their students during those days of isolation. All of us suffered.

What was missing was human interaction. We are gregarious animals, craving contact with one another. In-person contact, not a substitute provided by machines and a phone line. We need people. It is essential to learning.

Children are human beings and crave human contact even more than adults.

Long ago, GOT read a book about theology and the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. The book quoted a child as saying I need a God with skin on him.

And so it is with learning. Human children need teachers or tutors who are human, someone with skin on them that they can relate to and with. Anything less won’t do.

Sorry, Bill, but your assertions deny the fundamental humanity of children. AI tutoring will fail for those who try it.

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