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Duolingo Doomsday?

Updated: Jul 8

Are you an AI accelerationist or doomer?  A quick test.  Do you …

  1. think AI will help solve society’s problems and should be encouraged, or

  2. think AI will become sentient and destroy humanity?

If you chose (1) you're an accelerationist; (2) you’re a doomer.

A similar, if less existential, debate is occurring among economists as they consider whether AI will take people’s jobs.  Some recent announcements aren’t promising.

Earlier this year, CNN reported that Duolingo laid off around 10% of its contract workers as it increasingly uses AI to create content and do other admin tasks.  Other companies (e.g. Chegg, Dropbox) have also reduced their workforce as they use AI more.

Is this the beginning of the end?

It could be, but it mustn’t be.  AI’s ability to do human tasks is growing, and this is an opportunity to enhance the work of humans, not replace them.

Take education.  Learning is more than data transfer; it also involves relationships.  It’s a cognitive and social process, as students construct understanding through interacting with knowledge and people.  When we design AI solutions for education, they must enhance the work of teachers and their personal interaction with students.

In times of fiscal austerity, politicians will be tempted by edtech products that promise to reduce spending on teachers.  Here’s hoping our decision-makers are wiser and instead see the potential of AI to enhance teaching, and therefore learning outcomes, within existing education expenditure.

Well designed AI reduces the time teachers spend on low-value compliance work such as marking or data analysis, and frees them to better personalise learning for students.  This requires teachers, and initial teacher education (ITE) providers, to upskill on how to use AI effectively.  We’re all in this together.

AI shouldn’t and mustn’t replace teachers.  It must enhance their work for the benefit of students and ultimately our communities.

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