I, Robot, am your algebra teacher
Virtual assistant Amy is evolving fast, writes Anuja Nadkarni.
Schoolkids struggling with maths are now being tutored by an artificial intelligence robot named Amy.
The Amy prototype being trialled in 10 high schools around the country is a friendly cycloptic animation developed by computer scientists at an Auckland business hub.
She can’t provide a shoulder to cry on like Rosie from The Jetsons. But she is still evolving and could soon be personalised by students to look like their favourite teacher.
The tutoring business Osnova plans to release a new version of Amy in term three. The company has raised about $100,000 in capital so far and hopes to raise another $300,000 from investors at Flux, a small business accelerator programme.
Osnova co-founder Raphael Nolden insisted Amy was a partner for real teachers, not a replacement.
‘‘Pairing teachers with AI can create a much more effective learning process for students,’’ Nolden said.
‘‘No one became a teacher to do paperwork, so computer systems can do that while teachers can get feedback to correct mistakes or misconceptions.’’
Christchurch dad Chris Elles saw the Amy prototype on social media and signed up his sons Aiden, 12, and Ash, 10.
They use Amy in addition to other online maths learning platforms, but they enjoy her interactive nature.
The boys are now above average in their classes.
Elles said the data would provide accurate feedback for parents and teachers on student performance.
However, he is clear on Amy’s place in education, and it’s fair to say he won’t be putting her name forward this week when nominations open for the New Zealand Favourite Teacher Awards (favouriteteacher.co.nz), in association with the Sunday Star-Times, TVNZ’s Breakfast and Matilda, the stage show.
‘‘It would be stupid to think robots will replace teachers. The technology will let teachers see the individualised data to understand their students.’’
World-renowned New Zealand educationalist Professor John Hattie said teachers were the single biggest influence on children’s success – far more than their schools, their families and technology.
So do robotic tutors celebrate teaching as a high-status profession, or turn it into an automated production line?
Nolden created Amy with computer science tutor Antonia Modkova, and human-robot interaction expert Jurgen Brandstetter. They drew on research from world leaders in education, and worked with a number of New Zealand maths teachers.
The prototype being tested is for Year 11 NCEA maths students, but in the future Amy will also include the Cambridge curriculum and expand into other subjects.
Osnova founders Jurgen Brandstetter, Antonia Modkova and Raphael Nolden have created an AI maths tutor named Amy.