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EdTech Apps: A New Way to Socialise with AI

· AI,EdTech,Sociology,Ethics,Social Networks

Note: Some content in this article may not be suitable for sensitive viewers.

There have been many ways AI has been infiltrating social networks in the last decade. From rogue chatbots that have been taken offline by questioning the Communist Party in China, to the founder of the Luka app building a chatbot to resemble her dead friend, Roman by feeding its AI a library of previous messages (ie, Eugenia Kuyda, the engineer who built the Roman chatbot said she wanted to build a digital memorial bot in order to honour her friend whom she missed texting messages); to personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, and towards more humanoid forms such as Softbank’s Pepper, AI has become a new way for people to socialise.

Softbank's AI humanoid, Pepper, first launched in 2014, taking the world by surprise in its goal of understanding human emotion.

Lieutenant Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the sci-fi series, the AI humanoid Data wins a legal case in which he attains the right to become self-sufficient, having the same self-agency protections and rights as humans.

In fact, AI may even become your next therapist,  lawyer, and teacher, and many organisations in last decade have even been developing ways to even make AI into a sexual partner. 

Gamification of Language

One of the apps that I utilise everyday is Duolingo. At first, I was surprised by how quickly I was able to learn Japanese. I had previously taken a course at SOAS in London in elementary Japanese for a few weeks, but soon grew bored. In addition, the course focused on memorising words written in the English alphabet, so I was never able to read Japanese characters or Kanji as that was reserved for advanced learners. My retention for the course was zero and I lost interest after a couple of weeks. This was after hundreds of £s spent on the course. Although SOAS has a stalwart reputation and an overall brilliant institution, I found that I preferred learning at my own pace at the beginner level in Japanese with Duolingo; with Duolingo’s version of Japanese, I was able to start pattern recognition of Japanese characters fairly quickly by practicing just 10 minutes a day.

Duolingo is an app that my mother also likes, and she tends to practice learning her new languages right when she receives the message reminders on her phone. I tend to use Duolingo whilst in transit or standing in queue and it has usurped my tendency to check my email religiously throughout the day.

Another thing I like about Duolingo is the AI chatbot, as the app utilises everyday situations and puts you in a mode of thinking to converse in that particular language. Although the chatbot feature is not available for Japanese, it is available for other languages. One thing I would prefer is if Duolingo would launch a new chatbot situation for languages such as French everyday instead of every time one passes a particular section or category as I find I prefer talking to the French chatbot everyday.

In addition, I think it would be great if Duolingo launches an AI messaging app in which one could exclusively talk to a chatbot continuously throughout the day such as WeChat’s Xiaoice or Xiaobing in a variety of topics in the target language in which the user can also learn popular slang and ways of speaking in contemporary, non-academic form of the language as a potential option.

Previously, I have tried EdTech language apps such as Tandem - which is an app that matches users to other users who want to converse on a topic in the target language, but I find the initial signup cumbersome and irritating - as the app wants access to your social network profile or won’t let you become a member without uploading your photo. My opinion of Tandem is that is structured like a dating profile app, asking all sorts of annoying questions even before you can start to utilise the app. Whereas, in Duolingo, the signup process is easy, and learners can also have the option to join small groups limited to 20 members in which one can get acquainted with the serious learners who are in the group over time. In this way, Duolingo has bypassed the problems of other learning sites such as LiveMocha (which shut down in 2016) in which one feels drowned in a sea of endless learners (or rather spammers) in which it becomes difficult to even find someone to practice a target language.

Another wish list feature I would like is if Duolingo launched a way for members in the group to launch a group chat, so that members can actually ask each other questions or ask for advice. Currently, in the group setting feature, members can’t really communicate to each other except posting comments from a pulldown list of canned responses, much like the Lark app, which is a personal trainer assistant AI app that analyses your physical activity and eating habits. I find I don’t like the pulldown selection of responses, because it limits my ability to communicate and also puts me in a psychological state of mind in which I and forced to choose responses that is not reflective of my personality type.

Where’s the AI?

There are other apps that I like to utilise as well - which have more of a visual element. Three I like to use together are:

3D Brain is fascinating on its own due the way touch is utilised to examine part of the brain in an 180 degree rotating manner without all the cumbersome technical problems of the Complete Anatomy 2018 +Courses which has a tendency to crash a lot and take up a lot of memory. However, 3D Brain, although stable, is very limited in what it can do and only shows where each part belongs without any other sort of multi-player interaction or explanation of each section. I think if the app is able to utilise this visual form in addition to how the brain also looks on an MRI scan, such as in Brain MRI Atlas, using different sections, such as coronal or horizontal slices, it would really give insight into how the brain can be analysed by lab technicians and neuroscientists.

Brain Anatomy is an app I like because it has a quiz feature in which one can take tests to memorise sections of each brain based on different angles and views of the brain. However, this app, like the other apps, lack a gamification feature and an interactive, multi-player element which can make learning of the brain a collaborative process.

Previous gamification of the medical sector through board games in the the 1960s. The "Operation" board game for children was launched in 1964.

If Duolingo decides to expand past the language sector, I think the medical sector, in particular to human anatomy, analysis of brain MRI and cognitive neuroscience can be a lucrative field with many learners in the medical sector willing to pay for apps that can gamify this learning process as currently, there is no “meat” or AI being utilised in the leading EdTech apps in the medical sector except for those who are already practicing in the field, in which these programmes are not available to the general public.

Building Emotional Intelligence

Currently in our era, in particular to American media, apps and video games are being utilised to desensitise our youth to become ideal soldiers but not ideal citizens. The perfect soldier is one who learns to shoot on command, does not question his/ her orders and to associate violence with something pleasurable, such as sex. In the iconic book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, the author, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman describes how in previous eras, such as in World War I and World War II, how only a small percentage of soldiers would actually fire their guns at the “enemy” and engage in hand-to-hand combat (less than 10%). Much has been theorised in the past, by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists alike, and they have determined that it is against human nature to kill, and there is an innate tendency in all of us, to protect others. However, a lot of our natural instincts have been reconditioned by our media, especially in film, television, popular music lyrics and violent video games, to go against our natural instincts; and to act in ways that is beneficial for the US Military Industrial Complex to recruit and build perfect soldiers, starting from when we are children.

One of many growing acid attack victims in London. A 16 year old boy was charged with 15 acid attacks in the London area in a period of one month.

“Autism” has become a common aspect of our population, yet much of the definition of autism points to a lack of emotional intelligence and ability to empathise with our peers. Our current media makes it “cool and edgy” to make fun of others, exploit weaknesses in other people, and to have a lack of respect for other people, in particular to the elderly population. Through our media, we have heightened the popularity of people who often exploit, ridicule or bully others, who have no regard for the human condition and for human life, and many children have learned this kind of behaviour through popular media.

A scene from the video game: FragHero

A scene from the video game: Postal.

A female character, Katana from the immensely popular video game: Mortal Kombat. Women in violent video games are often depicted as scantily dressed sex objects, influencing the way young children think about gender roles and leading young children and adults to associate sex with violence.

A scene from the video game: Wolfenstein: The New Order. Violent video games desensitise people from human suffering and create a reward points-based associations of excitement and "winning" with murder and cruelty in the frontotemporal parts of the developing brain of young children and adults.

To counteract the actions of the US Military Industrial Complex, and its pervasive pattern of the desensitisation of young children from human suffering through popular media, our generation holds the particular honour, of the burden of responsibility to change this course in history; to alter our collective history. Do we want to create a future world with every citizen becoming the perfect soldier, as Lieutenant Grossman asks, or do we want a society that values human life?

Game of One

An app that I became obsessed with when it first launched was Churchill’s Solitaire. I often go through these phases where I like a mobile app game and play it for hours on end, then suddenly lose interest due to a lack of an interactive, multi-player element. This was true for Angry Birds and Disney’s Where’s My Water? apps.

When Churchill’s Solitaire first launched, I spent 22.5 hours straight, without sleeping, to play this game on the weekend. There is a cinematic component to the game, with the overarching dramatic musical composition, to the former Prime Minister’s soundbites to the overall sound and graphic design, in which I found myself transfixed with pattern recognition in this version of Solitaire. Of course, there is no multi-player element; one can’t compete with one’s friends, one can’t invite friends to the game, and there is no interactive element; it’s just you against the Solitaire programme. However, I think it is one of the most brilliant casual games of our generation in an era in which more people prefer to play Candy Crush or some other type of inane, mind-stultifying game that only requires hand-eye coordination and a sore thumb.

Initially, in Churchill’s Solitaire, there was a bug with some of the cards sticking and not moving when you attempted to slide them into position, but I found tapping on the card twice automatically moved the chosen card into the right position. However, aside from the bugs, I think the way this particular game was programmed, designed and conceived is simply beyond amazing. A wish list for this game is if there is an option to join an online “team” such as in a potential online global Olympics, where a group of people can compete against another group. Therefore, the entire team competes by rank, through individual scores for the overall team in a score that can be comparable against other global teams. Like-minded individuals who prefer these kinds of games can socialise and message each other, such as in the early days of other multiplayer games, such as Diablo and League of Legends.

Of course, the intent of Solitaire is to challenge you against yourself, but over time, it is not as interesting as being part of a collaborative effort, much like life itself.

Humans Are Social Beings

Despite the fact that we are often separated by geography, by culture, through upbringing, and perhaps also through socio-economic class and education, I think the great potential of AI is to break down the barriers of communication. Although AI is also currently primarily being utilised for the purposes of perpetuating the war machine, my hope is that AI will also open the lines of communication, in order to no longer make language a barrier in the way we interact with each other everyday.

We tend to be less alone, when we know someone else is going through similar circumstances somewhere else in the world, even if the person lives on the other side of the planet from us. My belief is that AI will unite us, because through language and communication, we will understand each other better, and find more things in common than focus on the things that divide us.

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