Exploring the role of AI in education

With new technologies disrupting the global landscape, education is key, says Omar El Dakkak, associate professor of Mathematics at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi



What kind of an impact is artificial intelligence having on the economy?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is completely revolutionising today’s societies to the point that many argue (quite correctly, in my opinion) that it is fostering a so-called fourth industrial revolution. More precisely, advances in machine learning (ML), and, in particular, in deep learning (DL), are profoundly transforming technology.

In fact, based on recent discoveries in mathematics, computer science and robotics, particularly complex algorithms have been created/discovered, which make it possible to achieve much more accuracy in devising systems capable of accomplishing complex tasks.

As an example, one might want to think of all those systems devised for decision support, for complexity analysis tasks, for human-machine interactions or used in the construction of intelligent agents.

As a consequence of these advances, ML-based and AI-based applications can be found today in many fields, ranging from insurance and finance, health and medicine, environmental studies, and exploration of space, to digital humanities, among others.

All of this is happening at a staggering pace. It goes without saying that with such a transformation come opportunities and challenges of spectacular magnitude, which pose us with a number of issues of philosophical and ethical nature.

How is all of this reflected in education?

We must separate two aspects: on one side, there are the higher- education programmes revolving around and/or integrating AI. On the other side, there are the AI tools that are being embedded in education processes.

As for the new programmes developed with a main focus on AI, we can distinguish three main areas: science-based programmes, engineering- based programmes and management based programmes.

Science-based programmes are the ones which place themselves at the interface between mathematics, computer science and data science. Programmes of this type are those in which students develop a proficiency in ML, DL and big data as well as their applications in various fields, for example in actuarial sciences (insurance and finance).

Engineering-based programmes focus more on the applications/integration of ML/AI in robotics, automation, or in industrial engineering processes.

Finally, management-based programmes focus on the effect on firms of integrating AI-based tools in the corporate organisation as well as the strategy/management frameworks used by companies when assessing how to implement AI in their structures.

Also, a number of interdisciplinary programmes blending these specialties are increasingly being developed. If we enlarge the scope to include programmes which incorporate some AI-techniques in their curriculum, then the list becomes all but infinite.

Moving to the other aspect, i.e. the integration of AI tools in education processes, one cannot but observe that educational institutions are increasingly transformed by intelligent systems that are “helping humans”.

Most popular today are intelligent organisational tools helping educators in grading, filing paperwork, assisting in admission processes, etc. This being said, the trend is towards embedding AI more and more in the learning process, through the development of AI-based tools capable of adapting to the needs of each individual student. Through ML and AI, one might expect that in the not too distant future, some aspects of hyperpersonalisation might become an integral part of education experiences.

Does Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi offer any AI projects?

Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is focusing on AI projects as part of its strategic plan. The Sorbonne Center for Artificial Intelligence in Abu Dhabi is scheduled to be inaugurated very soon. The research centre will develop fundamental and applied research. A number of educational projects will also be launched, starting with two executive training programmes in January 2020.