Sunday, April 1, 2018

Georgia Tech awards degree to an AI

Students who attend Georgia Tech are known for being bright, creative, and hard-working people.  But after the Spring 2018 commencement, it looks like we'll have to modify that description by dropping the word "people".

In a bold move, the Georgia Institute of Technology is poised to become the first major research university to have an AI (artificial intelligence) graduate with an accredited degree. In fact, TutorBot 3.1 will be awarded 44 of the 45 available Bachelor of Science degrees this May.

"If they were enrolled, and they meet all of the stated degree requirements, we can't not give them a degree," said the Institute Registrar, who is coordinating with dozens of other campus units to modify existing student information systems to allow for non-human alumni.  The bot was in fact enrolled but didn't have to pay any tuition, since, once it starting aceing the courses, it qualified for significant financial aid packages.

TutorBot 3.1 was created by a small group of students as a project for their undergraduate Create-X course.  The students designed a simple chat bot with a natural language interface to help other students answer questions about courses.  They called the project TutorBot and gave it a version number of 3.1, with the intention of adding an extra digit of precision at the end of the decimal for each new version, so that the version number asymptotically approaches the mathematical constant π. 

The AI consists of a "crawler" script that methodically visits every campus web page and collects syllabi, assignments, sample tests, online educational resources, and other course materials.  This data is fed into a standard machine learning protocol to train the AI to answer questions about any Georgia Tech course.

The students (whose names have not been disclosed since there is a pending honor code investigation) left their AI training code running on a homemade cluster of gaming PCs in their dorm room while they went on a trip.  Upon returning from spring break, they discovered that the AI had exploited an unpatched website vulnerability to enroll in all the courses and pass all but one of the final exams with an A.  

"The eerie similarity to the classic George P. Burdell myth is striking," said the student creators of the AI.  "It wasn't what we intended to build, but it went there anyway."

The only degree which the AI did not complete was a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.  The bot was well on it's way to finishing this degree, but then it took a course in mathematical logic and learned the Gödel incompleteness theorem, which proves that there are true statements which are unprovable by any algorithm.  Apparently, after that, it decided it could never fully understand math, so it simply cut its losses and stopped taking math courses.

This is not the first time Georgia Tech has experimented with AI's in education.  In a widely publicized project, Jill Watson is the world's first artificially intelligent TA, and “she” spends her days assisting students in the online M.S. in Computer Science.  Because Jill is used in courses for an MS degree, and TutorBot 3.1 only enrolled in undergraduate courses, there was thankfully no opportunity for inappropriate interaction between the two AIs.

What do you think of this brave new world of higher education?  Are the robots being developed at Georgia Tech going to end up running the place?  Is it only a matter of time before the Athletic Association wants to field a robotic football player designed to demolish the UGA Bulldogs?  We welcome your comments below!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Georgia Tech's secret collection of online Masters Degrees

Friday, April 1, 2016

The New Math Building - Pros and Cons

The current home of Mathematics at Georgia Tech is the Skiles Building.  It is probably no coincidence that this is one of the prime examples of Brutalist Architecture.  Over the years, this classroom building has been repeatedly honored for its run down state.  The 2014 "Best and Worst of Tech" article says

"If being smelly, gross, and depressing wasn’t enough to cement 
Skiles’ bad reputation, terrible water fountains can be added to its repertoire."

That's why I was excited to see that the Tech Green was being torn up to create a new math building!  The fact that we didn't have any donors or state funds to build the building shouldn't stop us from taking bold decisive steps, right? This was about math, why should we worry about reality?

New Georgia Tech Math Building
New Georgia Tech Math Building

As I reviewed the project plans for the new math building, I was quite pleased to see a lot of improvements.  There will be an infinite number of power outlets which I know the students will like.  However, each one is only half as large as the previous one, and no adapters are provided.  Maybe that'll be something for the next Inventure prize?

The cafe has a modern coffee bar where you can plug the theorem-giving fluid directly into your bloodstream via IV.   Too bad they only serve 3.14 flavors of pie, though.

Students today expect hands on projects and the new building will have a mathematical makerspace with 2D plotters, 3D printers, and 4D time machines!

I really like the architectural features like the efficient Escher staircase, the innovative Perkins study areas which are larger on the inside than the outside, and of course the self-cleaning, Klein bottle sinks.

Summing up, the new math building going on the site of the former Tech Green is a positive development.  I truly hope it's not purely imaginary and the designers can integrate all it's unique functions.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Georgia Tech Students Automatically Earn College Credit for Internet Use

Walk into any college classroom and you'll probably see students on their devices. Some are taking notes, but most are also simultaneously monitoring multiple social media feeds. Rather than fight this trend as a problem to be solved, the innovative folks at the Georgia Institute of Technology have figured out a way to turn it into an educational opportunity. Thanks to a recent initiative:

students at Georgia Tech will earn college credit
for their Internet use, automatically.

Post a cool mashup on Instagram? That's 0.1 credits toward a graphics arts class. Play an online WWII first person shooter for an hour? You'll get some points in your History class. Defeat a troll in a Facebook argument and you will find your Politcal Science quiz grade is an A. Reddit and YikYak posts that have a lot of upvotes, count as a homework grade in creative writing. Following leading scientists on Twitter may be substituted for attending Physics lectures.  No credit will be given for activity on LinkedIn since there is little educational value there. 

"It is a well-known fact that college students spend an average of 126 hours per week online" says Dr. Loof Lirpa, Vice Provost for Online Initiatives. "Our faculty have worked hard for many years to get students engaged, but there are too many distractions now on the Internet. We started monitoring and analyzing Internet usage, and we discovered that students are still learning material and engaging in discussions via social media, but it's all happening online and we can't easily grade it.  All we had to do was figure out a way to use this tremendous student effort in service of their degree. We are now using advanced learning analytics on all authenticated network traffic to assign grades instantaneously," says Lirpa. "When the student has completed enough activity, they earn their degree automatically and it is emailed to them."

How does it work? The answer is the network.

In order to use the campus wifi at Georgia Tech (and most other universities), everyone has to log on with their username and password. At that point their entire network traffic stream is uniquely identifiable and available via log files from switches, routers, and firewalls. Every website visit, post, tweet, photo, and yes, even yaks are available and tied to a user. Each TCP/IP packet is archived and analyzed using high performance computing and advanced algorithms. Grades are assigned using machine learning that has been trained to recognize intellectually valid content.  The student receives a monthly report of their progress. The more they use the Internet, the faster they graduate.

It is not clear what will happen to the faculty, labs, and research programs that Gerogia Tech also operates.  However, there is clearly huge potential for increasing the impact beyond the current brick and mortar university.  "We are developing a Georgia Tech Degree app which you can download for $9,999.99," said Dr. Lirpa.  "The app will monitor all your network traffic and analyze your Internet activity.  When you have learned the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, your Georgia Tech diploma will be emailed to you automatically."

What do you think about this latest educational disruption?  I think it's going to be huge.  And the good news is, just by reading this blog, you are a little further on your way to that Georgia Tech degree!