Exploring a world shared with robots

February 28 2018
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A MAJOR conference on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to shape the future of schools and society at large is being held in Wells in May.

The conference will be held in Cedars Hall and is being organised by Simon Balderson, assistant head (digital strategy) and director of studies at Wells Cathedral School.

“We’ve been thinking about the future of education and how schools are going to have to adapt,” he said.

“We’re in the middle of the fourth Industrial Revolution. The change is going to be so fundamental that schools need to prepare now. Depending on who you speak to robots are either going to put lots of teachers out of a job or help them do their jobs better – or at least change the face of education.”

The first event of its kind in the UK, AI Conf. is billed as: “An exploration of the future of education: how AI and machine learning will change our lives”. While a large part of the focus is on what it will mean for schools, the event is not just for people involved in education, but for anyone who is interested in how AI is going to change society.

“It’s about the philosophical, ethical and practical issues we will all face,” said Simon.

During the conference, there will be keynote speeches and workshops from some of the people who are pushing the boundaries of machine learning. A range of technology will also be demonstrated.

One use of AI in schools will be personalised learning with lessons tailored to each pupils’ ability.

“Adaptive systems will revolutionise the way we all learn. Some pupils will have a teacher they love but not everybody is so lucky. This will level the playing field, providing exactly the right level of challenge and support for any given pupil. Everybody will have the same chance,” said Simon.

The Cathedral School has already been thinking about ways to incorporate technology into school life.

“We’re playing around with ideas. For example, could we take the register by facial recognition?” said Simon, who points out that CCTV can already track him as he walks from one side of the school to the other, and be used to pinpoint the whereabouts of everybody on the school site. “It’s exciting and scary at the same time,” he said.

Addressing fears that robots are going to put a lot of humans out of work, Simon said: “The optimistic side is that more jobs will be created than destroyed.

“I think it’s going to be really positive. We won’t be doing the more manual things but can be data scientists and use technology to solve the world’s problems.

“The world has some big problems. I’m sure AI will be useful for solving those problems. We’re in the early stages of development so we don’t know what it can do yet.”

AI Conf. will take place on May 18 and 19. More information about it, including how to buy tickets, is available at aiconf.org

• Picture, top: Simon Balderson, and the robot that will be seen in the foyer of Cedars Hall during AI Conf.