Could Your Child’s Next Teacher be a Robot?
Remember watching the Jetsons as a kid and wondering when we would ever evolve enough to really have flying cars and robot maids? Okay so we don’t have the flying cars yet but scientists have been hard at work to develop robots who can do things like let's say…teach a classroom of kids. And I always thought Teddy Ruxpin was cool.
I know what you are thinking, “Oh come on now there is no such thing as a robot teacher.” But it is true as there are now robots being used in some classrooms across the world. The technology is there and continues to evolve as we speak.
In a 2008 CNN technology article, it was predicted that both teachers and textbooks could someday face a threat of being replaced by teaching robots. These robots are sometimes called Intelligent Tutoring Systems, defined as “computer systems that provide personalized instruction and feedback to students without human intervention.” Some scientific developers feel that human teachers would always have an important role, but that this new technology could change the traditional classroom as we have come to know it.
In 2009, a female humanoid robot named Saya taught a science and technology lesson to a class of 10 year olds at Kudan Elementary School in Tokyo. Saya, who first worked as a receptionist, broadened her career to include substitute teacher. Saya’s rubber skin can express six human emotions including surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness, and sadness.
MSNBC shows a video of Saya the teacher robot, who developers say is not intended to replace human instructors. However, Japan and other nations are reportedly hopeful that robots such as Saya will provide a solution for their shortage of workers. Some find such robots eerie or frightening especially if their appearance is made to resemble a human. When Saya the robot “scolded” the children, some reacted by crying.
On Saturday, the New York Times published an article, “Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot” that made the front pages of many newspapers for describing the possible uses of robots designed to teach. Of particular interest to developers is how robots can help children who have special needs including those on the autism spectrum. There are robots that are specifically programmed to teach things like new vocabulary words or even a new language. Some robots can teach daily living skills such as how to perform household chores while other robots focus on teaching social skills such as imitation and taking turns. The developers quoted in the New York Times article reiterated that these robots would never replace a human teacher, but would instead provide a supplement to learning. Scientists and educators are excited by the potential for these robots to teach children who have difficulties learning.
The robots described in the NY Times article are not the life-like, rubber faced ones like Japan’s Saya. These social robots look more like toys, some with plastic eyes, mechanical arms, and computer screen tummies. One of the neuroscientists quoted in the article believes that the more life-like robots do not elicit better social interactions and can seem creepy if the robot looks too human. If they make a teaching robot that looks like WALL-E, I can tell you right now that my son would respond.
These are exciting times to witness these technological advances in action. When I see how attentive some children with ADHD or autism are to computers in general, it seems highly likely to me that these same kids would find a robot teacher very alluring. It could be a fresh and novel way to capture the attention of children who otherwise find most lessons tedious and boring. I personally agree with the developers and scientists who say that these robots could not take the place of a human teacher, but they could be an effective and interesting aide in the classroom.
Who knows what the future will bring? Maybe we will be dropping off our kids in our flying cars to their robot teachers after all. Will we still have to wait in the drop off lane? I guess we will all have to wait to find out.
Of course we want to hear your thoughts. What do you think of having robots teach your child? Do you think it could work? Is this just a technical whimsy or do you think robots could have a practical purpose in the classroom? Tell us what you think. We are eager to hear from you!