University Business February 2018 - 9

and machine learning. In essence
the AI says, "I've watched how you're
performing. I see that you're spending
a lot of time on this particular set of
videos. I see that you're taking longer
to answer the quizzes. You're going
back and forth." When we have data
like that, we can use it to drive people
down a different path. Not a remedial
path, not an accelerated path, but just
a different path through the learning
experiences that they would have.
Is that, to use a very basic example,
the kind of thing Amazon and
Netflix do when they suggest books
or movies for you?
Yes, but there's something very different about what they do. There's something we call "The Beatles Problem."
And that is, if you spend too much
time on it, Amazon eventually starts
recommending you should buy The
Beatles because that's the lowest common denominator.
Amazon doesn't want to drive you
away so they push you toward the
lowest common denominator-the
safest choice-because otherwise,
you'll stop paying attention.
That is not what you want in
education. In education, the kinds
of choices you're making aren't really about popularity; they're about
understanding. And we have objective
means of determining whether you're
getting it or not.
You can describe it as the same
problem-they both rely on AI-
but the way in which you would slice
up the pie and the way you would
determine success are actually quite
different.
Can you give an example?
Sure. In my classes, I try to explain
something called the curse of dimensionality. The short version is, the
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Of all the different ways to explain
a concept, the artificial intelligence
engine will pick one based upon
how you seem to be performing.
more features you have or the more
dimensions you have, the more data
you need to learn something. It grows
exponentially.
That means that as we get more
possible ways of describing people or
objects or things, we need increasing amounts of data just to be able to
determine whatever it is we're trying
to learn about those objects, those
people, those things.
There's a couple of ways you can
explain that to people. One way is
very geometric. Another is more visual. Both methods achieve the same
result, but I've found over the years
that some people get one and some
people get the other.
Of all the different ways to explain
a concept, the artificial intelligence
engine will pick one based upon how
you seem to be performing.
The important point there is that
neither one of those ways of describing
the problem is better or worse than
the other, and neither implies something about your intelligence or your
capabilities or how much you actually
know or understand.
They're just different ways in
which you internalize those kinds of
facts about the world.
Being able to provide the right
method to the right person is important. And we finally have enough data
and interaction with people that we
have some hope of how we could describe a particular concept to them.

What will UBTech attendees take
from your presentation?
Part of my talk will be on the background of Georgia Tech's online Master of Computer Science and related
degrees that we're doing now. The
other part will be on our AI research
and what we can do with it now that
we've demonstrated the basics.
We've shown, first, that you can
provide an education online and,
second, that there are a lot of people
who would benefit. We've gone from
providing the infrastructure and the
content to being able to provide the
algorithms that can individualize it
to a particular person.
In the short term, we're going to
have some pretty significant impact,
but this is a long-term project that's
going to take years to do right. It's going to take a lot of iterations and quite
a few failures along the way.
We're perhaps five years away from
being able to point to something and
feel good about it, but we are at least
15 years away from being able to feel
great about it.
Tim Goral is senior editor of UB.
University Business welcomes
the insights and opinions of educators
and administrators on all topics. If you
would like to contribute a guest column,
please contact Tim Goral at tgoral@
promediagrp.com.

February 2018 | 9


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