From dystopian futures where humanity battles cyborgs, to worlds where humans are little more than a battery, AI is often painted as something to be wary of in popular culture.
The reality of machine learning is very different, and one the technology sector doesn’t communicate effectively. Ieso Digital Health (a digital mental healthcare provider based in the UK) analysed hundreds of millions data points to decode the active components of therapy and enable new therapeutic approaches.
Darktrace, a global cyber security team, is plugging the gap in cyber-security skills with AI that works alongside existing security teams. There are many examples of organizations using machine learning and data to provide real value to individuals and society.
However, what happens when AI gives you the edge in learning? Students feel pressure to excel, especially when education costs so much. A quick look on educationdata.org suggests that college costs an average of $25,615 for an in-state public institution; any academic advantage is one students jump at. Most people know a student who paid someone else to write an essay for them despite the clear dangers involved.
YouMakr founders Abbas Moledina and Rami Akily founded their start-up to provide a platform for inventors. Whilst innovative, it didn’t really work – retention of users proved problematic.
All good start-ups need to be prepared to pivot. One day Rami wondered if their AI could write an essay from scratch. Most tools take existing text from the internet and simply put that text back together, raising concerns about plagiarism. However YouMakr text is entirely original; the user gives the tool key terms (such as “How did Dior’s bar suit revolution women’s fashion?”) and watches words appear on the screen.
Currently the platform has a basic account available providing students with 1,000 words for free, thereafter you’ll need to pay $9.99 a month.
Two major issues jump to mind; intellectual property and access. Several major higher-education institutions are backing YouMakr, demonstrating that the education sector itself is comfortable that the IP is the students. Abbas Moledina, CFO, likened it to Microsoft releasing Encarta in the early 1990s.
“When I was in school we used to leverage on encyclopedias, and then Microsoft released Encarta and it changed our understanding of what learning is. Later, the internet arrived and, once again, entire perceptions on learning needed to be updated. We’re now in the era of AI, and we feel YouMakr is at the forefront of the next paradigm shift in academia.”
Ever since the internet became a widely-available tool students have leant on it to research their work. Just because the tool writes original (and astonishingly accurate, detailed text) doesn’t mean a student will achieve top marks using YouMakr alone.
Head to the website and you might get the impression the AI will automatically lead to top marks. One user quote reads, “I got an ‘A’ for less than 30-minutes work”.
However Abbas and Rami stress that good students will be rewarded for hard work, with Rami, CEO, adding;
“To generate great results, you must still do your research and provide your own insights. The AI will help formulate your notes and thoughts into well-written paragraphs. It works best if you are the mastermind behind your content. YouMakr enables students to spend more time creating insight instead of formatting papers.”
The explosion of EdTech startups, accelerated by the pandemic, means that the impact these businesses will have on the sector is hard to predict. There is little evidence to scrutinize. Mass adoption of technology at scale should always cause us to pause and check that there is suitable access and regulation.
Governments around the world have been far too slow to act and technology companies have proven incapable of self-regulation, moving quickly and not thinking about the impact of the technology they have built. This is problematic. The first cases of Covid appeared two years ago, and a lot of technology has already been adopted by education.
Many technology startups are built on promise, and the effectiveness of their marketing department. Whilst a different sector Theranos was a clear cautionary tale of technology promising to revolutionize a sector that is ripe for disruption. Elizabeth Holmes had little regard for the ‘legacy’ of healthcare and the experts in that field.
Technology businesses have realized that the classroom is an area they can enter, and the level of tech in education is only likely to increase. Access to education has never been equal, with scandals around access to schools for cash demonstrating just how far privilege has been able to take some individuals.
This is not a revelation. My concern is that AI behind a paywall could make it even harder for students without access to the latest devices, software or data to compete.
YouMakr is growing at an astonishing rate, doubling users month-on-month as the platform spreads by word-of-mouth. I was a student when Facebook launched. One day we didn’t have Facebook, then a few weeks later everyone did. I can see a tool helping you write essays having a similar viral appeal.
Are YouMakr and others entering the EdTech space building the platforms and services with accessibility at the forefront of their mind? Growth of users is hugely attractive but being responsible cannot be sidelined. When this challenge is put to Abbas, he strongly rebuffed the idea that their AI would limit access to education.
“Many students around the world are left behind, not because they don’t work hard or lack intelligence, but simply because they can’t write well. Millions of students are dyslexic. Many more are foreign where English isn’t their first language. These brilliant students are stifled by unfair handicaps. We feel YouMakr levels the playing field.”
So how concerned should we be? You might say that we can simply ban AI in education, and limit the spread of new tech. But emerging technology is always going to be used by those who can, and far better to regulate and make sure technology remains accessible than create a situation where it’s the preserve of the few.
Where AI and education is concerned, with a potential user-base desperate to give themselves the best chance of securing work in an increasingly complex and competitive labor market, the obvious challenges are clear to see.
It feels as though we’re in a pivotal moment and a small group of people are shaping future access to technology. It is critical that emerging technology is held to account and creates fair opportunities for all.