Artificial intelligence can help us to solve some of society’s most difficult challenges and create a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all. I’ve already shared the exciting possibilities in the fields of healthcare and agriculture in previous posts. But there may be no area where the possibilities are more interesting – or more important – than education and skills. From personalized learning that takes advantage of AI to adapt teaching methods and materials to the needs of individual students, to automated grading that frees teachers from the drudgery of assessing tests so they have more time to work with students, to intelligent systems that are transforming how learners find and interact with information, the opportunities to improve education outcomes and accessibility will be truly transformational.
There are many classrooms around the world where educators teach very diverse groups of students from different cultures, who speak multiple languages. Take The Dhour Shweir Public Secondary School in Lebanon, for example. It improved the academic interaction between students and educators through applications like OneNote and Microsoft Teams which provides real-time language translation, allowing students who speak different languages to communicate with one another. The tools not only promote better collaboration and productivity, but also enhanced interaction between the students and their teachers.
We also saw just how much more Teams can do when Australian professor, David Kellermann, recently demonstrated how he created a unique learning experience for his university students – from a Question bot that can answer students’ queries on its own to a Power BI dashboard that shows how students’ exam answers compare to peers’ and helps build personalized study packs for future tests based on previous performance.
I am intrigued by a new digital assistant that was recently launched by Staffordshire University, in England. Called Beacon, it is designed to help ease the stress and anxiety that many students experience in their first year at university. Hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform, Beacon takes advantage of the fact that students at Staffordshire, one of the UK’s leading institutions for digital technologies, are more likely to use their mobile phone to find information or search for help than to talk to a lecturer or seek out a member of the university’s staff.
Part information source and part digital coach, Beacon answers questions, suggests activities that students might be interested in, checks on their mood, and supports them in their classwork. If the digital assistant detects signs that a student is struggling, it can send an alert to a university staff member who is able to offer help. By providing insights about how each student is adjusting to university life and creating an avenue for delivering extra support quickly to those who need it, the hope is that it will reduce the dropout rate and help students thrive.
Education doesn’t end with school or University. In today’s world, we must all be prepared to keep learning and re-skilling, as the world of work evolves.
Outside of traditional education institutes, AI can also help people to reskill or acquire news skills – for example, through Microsoft’s partnership with Ashoka, a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs who are committed to finding innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges. As part of Microsoft’s worldwide Tech for Good Initiative, at the heart of this new partnership is the Microsoft-Ashoka Accelerator, a program designed to foster an ecosystem of start-ups that take advantage of the power of cloud computing and artificial intelligence to tackle social and environmental issues. I had the pleasure of meeting Arnaud Mourot, Co-Director of Ashoka Europe earlier this year, to talk about support for promising social start-ups. Microsoft is providing access to technology, AI and cloud expertise, and mentors who can help entrepreneurs create intelligent, data-driven solutions, connect to markets, and more.
I also attended the opening of the first Microsoft-Ashoka Accelerators in France and India, where we are piloting the program. Among the early participants in the program are Singa, an organization that helps refugees and asylum seekers connect with people, services, and economic opportunities in their host countries; Ipso Health, which is working to improve healthcare systems and expand access to quality healthcare; and Libraries Without Borders, which sets up libraries and provides access to information resources in conflict zones and areas affected by natural disasters.
One of the things I like most about this new partnership is Ashoka’s focus on programs for young people and its understanding of the value that comes from helping a new generation of young entrepreneurs gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to apply advanced technology to social innovation. Through its Youth Ventures program, Ashoka has worked with more than 500,000 young people around the world.
I too, am a strong believer in the value of mentoring young people, and it is something I am actively engaged in through Live for Good, a foundation my family and I founded in 2015 to enable young people from all walks of life to reach their full potential through social entrepreneurship and digital innovation.
One of the most important things I have learned is that the world is filled with talented young people who have brilliant ideas and a deep desire to create a better world, but who often lack access to skills training, to technology, or to mentors who can provide the critical guidance they need to truly thrive – in school and at work. Today, AI-based services like Staffordshire University’s Beacon digital assistant and programs like the Microsoft-Ashoka accelerator are providing opportunities for young people to get the support they need to prepare them to lead the way forward, while technologies such as AI are creating new ways to have a positive impact.
To me, this is probably the most inspiring and promising aspect of the digital revolution—the doors it is opening for all of us to thrive and to create a better world.