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AI Could Amp Up How We Study Maths: Bill Gates

The Microsoft co-founder said that AI has the potential to be a ‘personal tutor’ and could also make education more equitable

By Jessica Jani
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AI Could Amp Up How We Study Maths: Bill Gates

In a recent interview with Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that artificial intelligence could soon come in as a teacher’s aide in education and really amp up how mathematics is studied and understood by students.

Speaking at the 2023 ASU+GSV Summit, Gates pointed out that a background in mathematics would be necessary for those entering the tech industry now. “It turns out, the latest technologies are less coding related, and they're more math related — the way you do these differentials and matrices, it’s actually pretty tough,” he told Woolley-Wilson. “If you didn't come to computer programming from math, where a bunch of crazy matrix operations is second nature, then you're going to have to go get that background.”

‘Inequity Related To Maths Very Dramatic’

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s K-12 education initiative is focused on improving students’ outcomes in maths, and the Gates have shifted a substantial percentage of their resources into maths, he said. “The income or race-related inequity related to maths is very dramatic — we actually made this strategy before the pandemic came along…although as you look at the numbers of how much people have fallen behind, and how that also has an equity tilt to it, we feel very good that early in our work (we are) contributing to the understanding of what type of engagement in the classroom and outside the classroom leads to confidence and persistence in basic math skills.”

Part of all learning involves a huge motivational element, said Gates, adding that “resuscitating curiosity” in mathematics through group experiences and creating a positive relationship with the teacher and with the subject itself are needed.

Potential To Be Personal Tutor

“The gold standard of learning is a personal tutor who's looking at your fatigue and your interests and constantly adapting,” said Gates, adding that AI has the potential to be a personal tutor, but not immediately. “I wouldn't say that it immediately helps with the motivational (elements), we don't yet have the personal tutor.”

“AI is going to help with math, the ability to understand mental misconception, the ability to give you very quick feedback in an even deeper way than today's systems do,” he said.

“If you just took the next 18 months, the AIs will come in as a teacher’s aide and give feedback on writing. And then they will amp up what we’re able to do in math,” Gates said, adding that if the tools we have today are fully adopted, we “would make more progress in math scores than we’ve made in the last 20 years.”

Can AI Make Education More Equal?

However, the access to AI technology is not equal as well, Woolley-Wilson pointed out. “...The ‘haves’ are starting to understand how to prompt and query and discern the difference between something that's presented authoritatively and something that's actually factual and there are large numbers of students who are not learning those next generation skills.”

“The marketplace is always going to take the latest technology and make it available to the people who can pay high prices for it,” Gates said. But in technology, “over time through both hardware and software improvements, the cost of this stuff will get very low, and a lot of it will move down to the client base. And so the whole purpose of an entity like the Gates Foundation, or many others, will be to make sure this gets used on an equitable basis,” he said.

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