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“Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age”
Tomorrow’s Teachers

The director of the Goethe-Institut Ukraine Beate Köhler opens the congress Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age in Kiev in November
The director of the Goethe-Institut Ukraine Beate Köhler opens the congress Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age in Kiev in November. | Photo: Volodymyr Bugaenko

How does digitisation affect teaching and learning, but also social development and the labour market? At the Goethe-Institut Ukraine’s congress “Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age”, “The Latest at Goethe” spoke with Philipp Koch, an expert in artificial intelligence.

Mr Koch, when will artificial intelligence take over the world?

I don’t think we should be as obsessed with that end-time scenario as we are right now. That scenario has a pop culture background, it comes from Hollywood movies, and it sells. But I do believe that there are very different dangers that we should be more concerned about.

“You have to be able to afford artificial intelligence.”

What kind of dangers do you mean?

I think – if things go wrong – that our use of artificial intelligence could disunite society a great deal. For example, with artificial intelligence I can calculate the insurance risk of every individual, I can create independent weapon systems, etc. And at the same time we’re observing a major privatisation of research. That means that the companies that are now developing artificial intelligence are the big players on the market: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Research is no longer being done at universities, but by big industry. This leads to great inequality. You have to be able to afford artificial intelligence. A minor mid-sized company can’t afford it, but a big mail order company can, easily. So they’re moving on the market at two speeds.

Philipp Koch talking with Katharina Buck and Eva Korb from the Goethe-Institut Ukraine Philipp Koch talking with Katharina Buck and Eva Korb from the Goethe-Institut Ukraine. | Photo: Volodymyr Bugaenko

So in my view, the greatest danger is that the large, nebulous clouds of fear of end-time scenarios and ideas from Terminator will overshadow the real dangers, which aren’t part of public discourse. We could all benefit immensely from the potential revolution artificial intelligence could offer our industry, because repetitive tasks can be completely automated. Added value remains, but jobs are lost. We must therefore consider whether we’ll continue to appreciate humans for their ability to work or their ability to perform, or their part in the overall social added value. We have to consider an economic construct for how we want to compensate all of society. We have to actively steer this process.

The audience of the “Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age” congress consists mainly of teachers and educational experts from various fields. They often ask themselves: Will my profession become obsolete? How justified are these fears?

I think teachers ought to worry less about being replaced and their jobs being taken over by automated systems. There are jobs that are clearly more rule-based, much more structured than teaching. The teaching profession is the epitome of interaction, of flexibility, of not being rule-bound. An attorney is rule-bound, clerks are rule-bound, tax consultants, etc. That’s not the case for teachers at all. In addition, teachers have a special ability that we cannot teach artificial intelligence very quickly: namely to respond to others emotionally, interpersonally, empathically. And that’s something artificial intelligence can’t do, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Participants in the congress Participants in the congress | Photo: Volodymyr Bugaenko

An opportunity for the educational sector

Where in the educational sector do you envision the most exciting opportunities for artificial intelligence?

The risk of disunity and the personalisation of risk that I mentioned earlier may be an opportunity in education. We can personalise education without dissolving classes and schools. However, anyone in the classroom can work on topics where the system notices, “This is the right task for you now; it will bring you further, not that one.” Artificial intelligence thus takes away many repetitive steps in processes. Unburdened by them, we can focus on what makes people unique on an empathic level. This means that we have more time for students and learners.

So teachers can become advisors and tutors because they’re relieved of corrective functions?

What learners and people in general need in future is someone to help them navigate our highly complex world of unconditionally available information. It’s not so much about writing the next maths problem because that’s what the systems can do. Instead, it’s about how I assess information, how I handle it, where that information comes from, and so on. That means teachers of the future can become complexity managers.