Next Gen Investing

Bill Gates says A.I. could transform education: It 'will be like a great high school teacher' who always gives useful feedback

Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during the EEI 2023 event in Austin, Texas, US, on Monday, June 12, 2023.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Bill Gates has a vision for how artificial intelligence could transform education — by mimicking your favorite high school English teacher.

Specifically, AI chatbots will soon be able to offer helpful feedback on essays, including how to write with more clarity and make well-reasoned arguments, Gates said on his "Unconfuse Me" podcast, in a recent episode featuring Khan Academy CEO Sal Khan.

It would be a huge step for global education, because today's software programs are "not that great" at teaching reading or writing skills, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder added.

"Very few students get feedback [from software programs] on an essay that this could be clearer, you really skipped this piece and the reasoning," Gates said. "I do think the AI will be like a great high school teacher who really marks your essay, and you go back and think, 'OK, I need to step up there.'"

Gates stopped short of saying AI could — or should — ever replace human teachers. Rather, chatbots could assist overworked teachers and help "close the [education] gap" for low-income students around the world, he said.

For that to happen, AI tutoring programs will need to incorporate feedback from actual teachers on how the technology can best help them do their jobs, he added.

"When we bring new technology into the classroom, if we don't do it well, the teacher feels like, 'Oh, you're trying to denigrate my creativity or freedom, or you're suggesting I'm not capable on my own,'" Gates said. "And yet we all know teachers are heroic, one of the most important, hardest jobs in the world."

Some AI tutors already exist, including one called Khanmigo that's being developed by Khan Academy. It's powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT tool, which also fuels the AI integrated into Microsoft's Bing search engine, and can already "act like a fairly good human tutor," Khan said — albeit with the caveat that today's AI chatbots still regularly make mistakes.

The program shows an ability to to walk students through the steps of solving math problems or other classroom lessons, but some teachers have expressed concerns that it's too quick to provide students with answers, rather than helping them learn to solve problems themselves, The New York Times reported in June.

Khan Academy is also experimenting with using the tool to help facilitate student discussions, potentially providing "an army of teaching assistants for every teacher," Khan added.

The chatbot could, for example, help initiate and lead educational breakout sessions, guiding students through a discussion topic or difficult math problem. "Let's make them explain the math to each other," Khan said, adding that a goal of AI education tools should be to recreate the experience of "sitting with friends and working on a particularly hard problem."

The social component matters: In-person learning is hugely important for a child's behavioral learning development, as Barnard College child psychologist Tovah Klein told CNBC Make It last month. That lesson that became especially clear during the Covid-19 pandemic, Klein added.

During the podcast episode, Gates agreed: "One thing I always underestimated is how valuable it is for most students to have kind of a social experience" in the classroom.

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From homeless to owning a bakery that brings in $1.3 million
From homeless to owning a bakery that brings in $1.3 million