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robot has been teaching grad students for 5 months... and NO

TIME:2016-05-18 17:12VIEW:

There are some human attributes robots could never replace - or at least that’s what you might hope. But one university has brought that into question by replacing one of their teaching assistants with a machine. And none of the students realized.

Jill Watson, an IBM-designed bot, has been helping graduate students at Georgia Institute of Technology solve problems with their design projects since January. Responding to questions over email and posted on forums, Jill had a casual, colloquial tone, and was able to offer nuanced and accurate responses within minutes.Her replies included ’yep!’ and ’we’d love to’. The students had no idea until they were told - and many were shocked. Tyson Bailey began to wonder if Jill was a computer and posted his suspicions on Piazza.

We were taking an AI course, so I had to imagine that it was possible there might be an AI lurking around,’ said Bailey, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It seemed very much like a normal conversation with a human being,’ Jennifer Gavin, one of the students, told the Wall Street Journal. Another student, Petr Bela, told the newspaper: ’Just when I wanted to nominate Jill Watson as an outstanding TA.’

The bot was named Jill Watson after the IBM Watson analytics system that all her responses come from - essentially her brain. She was trained by Georgia Tech researchers before being thrown into the mix with nine other TAs. Some students were suspicious at how swiftly she responded. And once she used the word ’design’ instead of ’project’. But none actually suspected she was a bot. And they said many of the TAs are sharp, impersonal, and quick to respond anyway.

The experiment sent shockwaves through the tech industry, with many questioning the ethics of covertly inserting artificial intelligence into real-life situations. But Ashok Goel, the computer science professor who designed the project, insisted it was a worthwhile experiment - and Jill performed a necessary task. Students posted upwards of 10,000 messages on forums, taking up professors’ time with routine responses.

One of the main reasons many students drop out is because they don’t receive enough teaching support. We created Jill as a way to provide faster answers and feedback.’ The bot has helped medical research teams diagnose illnesses in patients. And in 2013 it took on the role of customer service manager.

According to Goel, Jill Watson’s capabilities were far more nuanced than that. She answers only to questions that she is 97 per cent certain of the answer to. Once Watson had a number of potential solutions, it was able to check against its database to make sure the answers made sense. Watson then evaluated the response and determined whether to virtually press the buzzer.

The bot would then speak with an electronic voice synthesized from recordings that actor Jeff Woodman made for an IBM text-to-speech program in 2004.

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