“Alexa, explain what the continuum hypothesis proposed by Georg Cantor is”

Imagine sitting in the luxury of your house and having a disembodied, emotionless voice explain to you the concept that a set of real numbers between 1 and 0 is much larger than a set of natural numbers up to infinity. Being able to sip your favourite coffee while going through multiple assumptions to prove someone else’s assumptions is certainly not a luxury that classrooms can afford but we live in a digital age – this is a vision not far from fulfilment. But is it an entirely ideal
vision?

Of all the revolution that the world has seen so far, the digital revolution is perhaps the most important one, even though it’s just in its infancy, because humans are essentially developing machines to replace them in almost every field. It’s not just the impact of these machines in our lives but also how the emergence of machines with artificial intelligence has revolutionised our lives that should be highlighted.

What do we mean by Robotics, Automation and AI?
Robotics is a branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacture, and operation of robots and automation is the application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings or, increasingly, to tasks that would otherwise be impossible. Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. The idea of having machines to do our work for us has always caused excitement in us. Artificial Intelligence and robotics, though they have become common house-hold terms only recently, have existed in popular culture like Isaac Asimov’s science fictions for a long time. This probably fuelled
their advancement even further. The breakthroughs in AI, robotics and automation surpassing human ability in certain activities make headlines now, but they have been a standard part of the industrial repertoire since at least the 1980s.

What is their significance?
This kind of technology has the potential to transform many industries – from transports to military to cloud computing. The list is endless. The number of robots in use worldwide has multiplied three-fold over the past two decades, to 2.25
million. The global stock of robots is expected to even faster in the next 20 years, reaching as many as 20 million by 2030. They have already found their way into our homes with Alexa (AI personal assistant), on our television screens with Xinhua (news presenter) and we have a social humanoid robot, Sophia .

Most importantly, though, with the rising concern for environmental issues, the fact that robotics is playing a significant positive role in eco technology, is a big relief. For instance, scientists have tried using a Dustbot that plies around the streets of the city, collecting trash and taking it to a recycling station. And in San Francisco, the Liquid Robotics company has developed sailing robots that look out for oil spillage from offshore drilling rigs, among other things.

Can a Robot teach?
Robots have entered in almost every profession in some way or the other. In fact, in 2013, Amazon had 1,000 robots operating in its warehouses but now Amazon has 45,000 robots operating across 20 warehouses and it is estimated that 5 million people will be replaced by robots in jobs by 2020.

However, an interesting field to see the robots in would be teaching. But can robots teach? In the literal sense of the word “teach”, the answer is yes because robots essentially run on algorithms developed by humans. It would not be much different from asking Google a question. But teaching is not just about reading out information from scholarly texts and saying “syllabus is over”. It’s a much
deeper process, which is why it is one of the most revered and difficult professions – teaching is building a person not only mentally through education but also spiritually through inspiration.

Many classrooms do use artificial intelligence for aid in education. For instance:
 Elias Robot is used in classrooms to teach native languages fluently
 Keepon is useful for observing and encouraging synchronized movements,
utterances, and other social cues.
 Nao, in its sixth generation, is completely programmable and can teach a variety of lessons
 Evo OVObot teaches logical and sequential thinking
 Tega serves as a classroom learning companion for younger kids. It asks students to complete tasks, monitors their success, and provides feedback.

Robot teachers: Is it a viable choice?
Firstly, they can provide assistance to the teachers and reduce the workload by a great extent as seen in case of the aforementioned robots. They can take the attendance or grade papers or monitor students’ behaviour. However, robot teachers may not be affordable for many schools.

Robots have fixed price of parts, most of which are expensive and fundamental to the construction, therefore expensive. Moreover, for schools which can barely afford one teacher per class, an AI assistant for those teachers or even as their replacement is uneconomical. Not to mention the fact that, it would result in large-scale unemployment. A nation with a vast unemployed population doesn’t paint a good picture.

On the plus side, one can rest assured that if a student has a question, it can be immediately looked into because robots are programmed to store and retrieve information like the internet, with the help of AI. It might not always be possible for a human because it is, after all, not humanly possible to search through millions of documents using a few keywords within seconds. Also, they will always be available and on the clock, as long as their power source is well fed. However, it would
be a matter of concern for the environment for not all robots are environment friendly.

Most importantly, though, they lack the human touch. They can surely be fountains of knowledge if information is fed to them but it is difficult to induct feelings into these machines – which means there will be no “personal favourite student”, but also no one will remember their school days and think “ I am all that I am because of my teacher”. Many countries have already started incorporating AI assistants in classrooms, or at least digital learning to some extent but robots replacing teachers entirely is still far from a tangible reality.

In conclusion, Alexa can teach you all about the continuum hypothesis by reading out articles from the internet but it will never be the same as your teacher explaining it to you with relatable examples and anecdotes.

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