“It’s really about the blend”: Bill Gates on AI in the classroom

Published 09/05/2023

AI is going to revolutionise teaching & learning in the same way that it has huge implications for the delivery of healthcare services, but it will never replace teachers, Bill Gates has predicted.

AI technology will, however, become better and better at offering effective and personalised tutoring support, he indicated.

This was one of the core messages delivered by Gates, founder of Microsoft, at the ASU+GSV summit in San Diego this year.

“It’s really about the blend,” he said, as he explained about the power of AI.

“The breakthrough that we have now is to do with reading and writing”

“The breakthrough that we have now, which is fairly recent, is to do with reading and writing,” he continued.

“[AI] has this incredible fluency to say write a letter like this, like Einstein or Shakespeare would have written this thing… and at least 80% of the time [we are] stunned by it.”

He suggested that AI will be able to provide accurate feedback on improving essays which until now has not been possible.

“I think at first we’ll be most stunned by how it helps with reading, research assistance and giving you feedback on writing. What a good teacher, in terms of taking your essay and marking up and saying, ‘this isn’t clear and the summary should have included this’, that is a high cognitive exercise and software – except on a really trivial kind of grammar level – has had essentially zero benefit [to date], especially when you get out of a very templated writing exercise.”

Speaking to a room of edtech innovators and investors, Gates drew laughter from the crowd when he observed that making money from edtech “has never been a very easy thing to do”.

But he shared that he wants the benefits leveraged by AI to be able to be accessed equitably.

“The two domains of great interest that over the last six months [where] I’ve been to, you know, so many long meetings where we brainstorm… [have been healthcare and education],” he shared.

“What does this mean for drug discovery, for diseases to look for? What does this mean for health consultations in Africa, where most people live their entire life without meeting a doctor?”

“We can revolutionise that. And the cost of doing it won’t require some unrealistic amount of financing to do it. So overall, in health and education, this should be a leveller because having access to a tutor is too expensive for most students.”

He summarised, “I think in the next 18 months, the AIs will come in as a teacher’s aide and as a feedback on writing.”

Gates predicted the impact of AI on sales jobs and service jobs would be phenomenal and that it would increasingly become incorporated into the classroom.

“The amount of money going into making these things better is absolutely gigantic”

“We can say that based on the version of it we have now. And yet the amount of money going into making these things better is absolutely gigantic. It’s hundreds and hundreds of companies building competitive things and building on top of it.”

Of the tutoring power that AI presents, he said, “It’s really about the blend, how much time do you have with this student, how quickly do they learn these things.”

He posited that AI is also going to be able help with maths as well as reading and writing in time.

“But I wouldn’t say it helps with the motivational piece.”

Tutoring support won’t replace a personal tutor, the gold standard of learning, Gates said.

“The AIs will get to that ability – to be as good a tutor as any human ever could. We have enough sample sets of those things being done well. That is a very worthwhile milestone, to engage in a dialogue where you understand what they are missing… We don’t have that today.”

He did nod to Khanmigo from Khan Academy, a partner of OpenAI as an interesting pilot and great collaboration. Khan Academy “was brought in at very beginning last fall, right at the time when the new breakthrough [in capability] took place”, he shared.

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