2017 has been called the year of Chatbots, futurists tell us how chatbots will revolutionise Learning & Development and your grandma probably started using Alexa in your living room. AI is being predicted by experts to become the leading driver of education by the 2020s. We know FAQ chatbots on websites and we are talking more to bots on our phones than people. But how can we use those virtual assistants and even AI in our next online course, micro-training session or MOOC?
Enter Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Finally, the tech is maturing above chatbots.
We are not talking about a pre-produced talking Avatar guiding you through your average online course. Nor are we talking about a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa or Cortana who searches Google on your command for knowledge from Wikipedia (and storing our data who-knows-where). We are talking about a virtual assistant, a chatbot, who is your interface to artificial intelligence, has a live animated face and body when needed (in Skype or virtual worlds) and is the best coach, trainer or teacher you can wish for. Yes, I am talking about an ideal world, but we are getting there!
Intelligent Tutoring Systems are the CUI for eLearning & Training
Conversational User Interfaces (CUI) are already starting to replace our good old Graphical UI (buttons, touch and click). We have known this for decades – Captain Kirk and his crew always talked to the Enterprise, and that was in the nineteen sixties! These sophisticated chatbots are certainly an interesting addition to the toolbox of online learning designers. The tech is advancing fast: Botanic Technologies, for example, has already developed multimodal Avatars (text, voice and video) who act as an advisor to medical personnel or as your personal job interview coach on Skype. One digital coach — an animated character named Andi — actually does a sentiment and emotional analysis. During a Skype video chat, it processes via webcam your facial expressions, your tonality and your use of words in order to prepare you for a successful job interview. Here’s an example:
Watch Andi, the job interview coach in more detail on Vimeo.
Or rather: Let Andi watch and analyse how you are doing …
Your Personal Virtual Tutor: 24/7:
Never Tired, Never out of Office
That’s why the virtual all-knowing assistant is a better tutor. Think „personal mobile virtual coach“: Your personal learning tutor who lives in the net and assists your learning wherever you are – as a chatbot or voice assistant on your phone or as a 3D character in your favourite virtual learning environment. But the best thing is, those tutors don’t have office hours and thousands of students could benefit from on well-designed conversational bots. MOOC providers know what I am talking about – they’d give anything to clone good tutors for a 24/7 service.
But who can actually develop a chatbot for eLearning environments?
How does that even work? Most of the non-coding chatbot creation platforms (Chatfuel, Botsify) are offering marketing, faq and customer service templates. I’ve created my first virtual teachers with tiny avatars and synthetic voices more than 10 years ago (with Pikkubot in Second Life, sitepal and presenters with Mediasemantics) and unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of advancement in the educational area. To integrate a virtual tutor like the example in the video above you’d need to hire a company that creates your sophisticated coach – which is out of the question in most L&D projects. Or you did deeper and try to create your own dialogue flow in Flow.ai or with IBM Watson. But you already have a profession and who has time to build virtual tutors from scratch?
What to do? Well, I have chosen to take it one step at a time and I joined forces with an interesting company called SEED Vault. They want to make the world a better place by building a massive open-source bot economy based on the blockchain. Independent developers and learning designers need to have access to AI-powered virtual assistants with a variety of ready-to-go templates as well as to open, shared standards we can all use. It doesn’t make sense for a few companies to own the entire AI & CUI market (like Facebook, Alexa, Microsoft, Google, Apple … ). Also, educators need to be very aware of data privacy – which you don’t get from these big corporations. They store every word your students would utter in a black box in exchange for their services. Bots and AI need to be transparent and verified — and that is where blockchain technology comes in.
SEED: A Garden Eden for Bot Builders, Designers, Deployers and Educators on Blockchain
SEED actually emanated from Botanic (the creators of Andi the interview coach) and other global bot communities are joining them as we speak. I’ve been working with Mark Stephen Meadows, founder of Botanic, years ago and have been following his work ever since. Now I’m excited to work with SEED to democratise AI, keeping my focus on education, eLearning and virtual training. I am responsible for managing Bot Community Initiatives – if you are a bot developer, dialogue designer or author please let me know – the SEED community needs you to speed up the evolution of conversational user interfaces so we can finally have ourselves a couple of wise-cracking charming virtual tutors in our next online course 🙂