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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Let’s open up the silos in the sky and supercharge AI to enhance education

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 October 2017

Rose Luckin.
Sunday 15th October saw the publication of Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK, the report of the independent review announced as part of the UK Digital Strategy in March. It also builds on the recognition in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper published in January that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a major, high-potential opportunity for the UK to build a word-leading future sector of our economy. The two chairs of the review Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech, have done a great job in raising the profile of UK AI and highlighting the tremendous opportunities and the significant challenges we face. They urge the government to help the UK become the clear world leader in the development of AI – “to boost productivity, advance health care, improve services for customers and unlock £630bn for the UK economy.”The key to all this is of course education, because that will be the route for the AI experts to gain their knowledge and understanding to build the systems to advance health care, improve services for customers and unlock £630bn for the UK economy. However, beyond this obvious role for education there is the important fact that education can also be a key beneficiary of AI, because the combination of big data, AI and our increased understanding about how people learn has the potential to be a ‘game changer’ for good in education.
The review itself has a strong message for educators. There are a total of 18 recommendations for how to make the UK the best place in the world for businesses developing AI to start, grow, and thrive.  These include a recommendation about Skills – to increase the UK’s AI expertise; about Increasing uptake – to help organisations and workers understand how best to use AI; about Data – to ensure that we can all be confident that use of data for AI is safe, secure and fair; and about Research – to build on the UK’s strong record in cutting-edge AI research.
Recommendation 4 calls on Government, industry and academia to embrace the value and importance of a diverse workforce for AI, and to work together to break down stereotypes and broaden participation. This is key to attracting more women and minority groups into the AI world, and must be in place if the other recommendations are to make their maximum impact. There is a related call for 300 sponsored Masters level courses in AI, including one-year conversion Masters degrees in AI for graduates in subjects other than computing and data science, and an additional 200 PhD places dedicated to AI at leading universities.
Recommendation 10 also calls for an opening up of AI: The Alan Turing Institute should become the national institute for AI and data science, becoming truly national and expanded beyond the current five universities, with a key stated aim that focuses its mission on AI.
However, I believe that the most significant recommendations for education are about opening up data and collaboration:

Recommendation 1 – To facilitate the sharing of data between organisations holding data and organisations looking to use data to develop AI, Government and industry should deliver a programme to develop Data Trusts – proven and trusted frameworks and agreements – to ensure exchanges are secure and mutually beneficial.

Recommendation 11 – that Universities should use clear, accessible and where possible common policies and practices for licensing IP and forming spin-out companies.

Recommendation 13 – that Government should work with industry and experts to establish a UK AI Council to help co-ordinate and grow AI in the UK.

Recommendation 18 – that Government should ensure that challenges addressed by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) and Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) are growing the AI industry in the UK.

These are the recommendations that could empower the UK EdTech start-up sector to build the innovative AI systems that will transform education and relieve teacher workload and improve student learning and well-being. These are also the recommendations that will enable increased collaboration between university research and EdTech start-ups so that we can all work together to get the best AI-enhanced EdTech into the hands of educators, learners and parents.
The EDUCATE project at UCL Knowledge Lab is doing precisely this: it has the mission to advance the efficacy of educational technology by making the best research evidence and practice accessible for educators, researchers and technology developers. EDUCATE is enabling developers and educators to integrate research evidence, thinking and practice into their products and services to further drive and inform new research.
The company singled out by the Government press release for the Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK report is CENTURY, an AI company that has developed a platform to help children to learn and teachers to provide more personalised education programmes, with feedback and suggestions to help fill knowledge gaps. CENTURY is a member of the first EDUCATE cohort and has embraced the need for its product to be grounded in sound research from neuroscience and education. CENTURY is a great example of a UK start-up that is innovative and effective in its education mission; EDUCATE is a great example of a project that supports university and start-up collaboration. The report recommendations could go a long way to empower both CENTURY and EDUCATE by helping them to access the data and support that could help the UK to lead the way in education and AI.
We need this review to empower us to open up our data and to protect us from its misuse. At the moment there are a few large tech companies who hold a great deal of data about you, me and everyone else, so let’s open up the silos in the sky and supercharge AI to enhance education.

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