Society is “sleepwalking into a human disaster” of uncontrolled and unaccountable AI technology development, the founders of Institute for Ethical AI in Education warn

Governments and the giant tech companies are not paying enough attention to the potential dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) in education, leading to a potential global disaster for humanity,  it has been claimed.

Guests attending the launch of the new Institute for Ethical AI in Education (IEAIED), which took place at Speaker’s House, in London, were told that there is too little understanding of AI and the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society were at risk of being exploited by advances in the technology.

The IEAIED has been founded by Professor Rose Luckin, director of EDUCATE, Sir Anthony Seldon, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, and Priya Lakhani, CEO of CENTURY Tech, a former EDUCATE cohort.

Professor Luckin, who is professor of learner centred design at UCL Institute of Education Knowledge Lab, said that the invention of machines that can learn was “enormously exciting” because learning was the “holy grail of humanity”.

But those developing the technology needed to be held to account. She said the combination of expertise among the founders – who are educators and EdTech developers – meant the Institute was in a unique position to do this because it  understood the implications for learners.

“At UCL Institute of Education, we run the EDUCATE project and we have so far interacted with 15% of the UK EdTech companies and, by the end of next year, we will have interacted with 25% of EdTech start-ups and SMEs, which means we have worked with them to develop a framework they can adopt.”

Professor Luckin warned about “snake oil” merchants in the EdTech market. “They get away with it because we have not educated people into what AI is,” she said. “We must do this and help them understand about the technology, where they should be careful, and where they don’t need to worry.

“I don’t want to scare people away because the dream of everyone being educated is so important. But we have to have this Institute because no one else is paying attention to this puzzle. It is the ‘wild west’ and we are going to call it to account.”

Sir Anthony Seldon said AI was the single most important development in educational technology since the printing press. But it was going to be “either the best thing or the worst thing for humanity”.

Sir Anthony said: “We cannot trust the giant tech companies, and we cannot trust governments around the world. If we are going to get this right we have to depend on the women and men who understand what is happening and have the magnificence of mind to steer this development in the interests of all, and particularly the most vulnerable and least disadvantaged.

“We do not know all the answers yet. But at the moment are sleepwalking into a morass which will become a human disaster on a scale that is even more frightening than global warning. There are AI deniers and the AI apathetic who are not seeing what is fast coming towards us.

“In this country we are not thinking about AI in education nearly enough. It is the Cinderella of the AI applications across human life. It could be the thing that will liberate and have untold benefits in cultural and education experiences, but for the most vulnerable it also has great dangers.”

Among the dangers facing young people, apart from the applications of the technology, was the current system of education with its obsession with exams, which was creating passive learners who are unable to discriminate and learn for themselves.

Priya Lakhani, CEO of CENTURY Tech, said that while there were many committees and institutes devoted to the study of AI all over the world, none was specialising in education.

“We have to ensure we do something meaningful. We have to demand that the industry considers, holistically, the impact on young people,” she said.

The Institute will publish an interim report on its work at the end of 2019, with a full report a year later.