Limits of ‘machine learning’

Limits of ‘machine learning’

Robots cannot replace teachers as machines lack basic human values.

Suppose you are driving a hybrid car with a personalised Alexa prototype and happen to witness a road accident. Will your Alexa automatically stop the car to help the victim or call an ambulance? Probably, it would act according to the algorithm programmed into it that demands the user’s command.

But as a fellow traveller with Alexa, what would you do? If you are an empathetic human being, you would try to administer first aid and take the victim to a nearby hospital in your car. This empathy is what is missing in the machines, largely in the technocratic conquered education which parents are banking upon these days.

Tech-buddies

With the advancement of bots or robots teaching in our classrooms, the teachers of millennials are worried. Recently, a WhatsApp video of AI-teacher engaging class in one of the schools of Bengaluru went viral.  Maybe in a decade or two, academic robots in our classrooms would teach mathematics. Or perhaps they will teach children the algorithms that brings them to life and together they can create another generation of tech-buddies.

I was informed by a friend that coding is taught at primary level now which was indeed a surprise for me. Then what about other skills? Maybe life skills like swimming, cooking could also be taught by a combination of YouTube and personal robots. However, we have the edge over the machines in at least one area and that’s basic human values. This is where human intervention can’t be eliminated at all.

The values are not taught; rather they are ingrained at every phase of life by various people who we meet including parents, teachers, peers, and anyone around us alongside practising them. Say for example, how does one teach kids to care for the elderly at home?

Unless one feels the same emotional turmoil as the elderly before them as they are raised and apply the compassionate values, they wouldn’t be motivated to take care of them.

The missing link in academia

The discussions on trans-disciplinary or interdisciplinary courses often put forward multiple subjects as well as unconventional subjects to study together. Like engineering and terracotta designs or literature and agriculture. However, the objection comes within academia citing a lack of career prospects.

We tend to forget the fact that the best mathematicians were also musicians and the best medicinal practitioners were botanists or farmers too. Interest in one subject might trigger gaining expertise in others and connect the discreet dots to create a completely new concept.

Life skills like agriculture, pottery, animal care, gardening, and housing are essential skills that have many benefits. Every rural person is equipped with these skills through surrounding experiences. Rather than in a classroom session, these learning takes place by seeing, interacting as well as making mistakes. 

 A friend who homeschooled both her kids had similar concerns. She was firmly against the formalised education which teaches a limited amount of information mostly based on memorisation taking out the natural interest of the child. Several such institutes are functioning to serve the same goals of lifelong learning. Such schools aiming at understanding human-nature, emotional wellbeing, artistic and critical thinking are fundamentally guided on the idea of learning in a fear-free environment.

When scrolling on the admissions’ page in these schools, I was surprised that the admissions for the 2021 academic year were already completed. This reflects the eagerness of many parents looking for such alternative education systems.  

These analogies bring back the basic question of why education? If it is merely for technology-driven jobs, probably by the time your kids grow there wouldn’t be many jobs as the machines would have snatched them.

Also, the country is moving towards a technology-driven economy and may not need many ‘skilled labourers’. Surely, a few post-millennials would survive in any condition if they are extremely smart and adoptive but they may need to stop and reboot if their education has not prepared them for uncertainties to come. 

(The writer is with Christ, Bengaluru)

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