AND despite being a machine, the robot may even be a BETTER teacher–NO WONDER machines are taking over our jobs! (NOTE: Subscribers have a coupon that gets you a beautiful, hardcover copy of hardcover copy of Whitley Strieber’s wonderful novel Hybrids for only $5. Just don’t let that robot catch you reading it in class!)

In New Scientist, Niall Firth quotes researcher Bilge Mutlu as saying, "We wanted to look at how learning happens in the real world. What do human teachers do (to keep students’ attention) and how can we draw on that to build an educational robot that achieves something similar?"

He programmed a humanoid robot to tell individual students a story about the animals that make up the Chinese zodiac, in a one-on-one situation, then tested them afterwards to see how much they remembered. A test group was told the same story by a human.

The students who were given a cue by the robot when their attention was waning were much better at recalling the story than the other group.

But the robot had an advantage because it was programmed with an EEG program that could "read" the students’ minds–notice if their attention was wandering and "wake them up," with a voice change or movement, if necessary. It’s the kind of thing that a human teacher has to intuit.

Firth quotes researcher Andrew Ng as saying, "One-on-one tutoring has been repeatedly shown to give dramatic results in student learning, but the main problem with it is the cost. The vision of automatically measuring student engagement so as to build a more interactive teacher is very exciting."

"Sorry, (Mom or Dad), I can’t (do the dishes, mow the lawn). I have an appointment with my robot."

Whitley didn’t have an appointment with the Master of the Key–in fact, he took Whitley entirely by surprise when he burst into his Toronto hotel room in 1998 and warned him about climate change, which led to his bestselling book "Superstorm."

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