Artificial Intelligence in education—imagining and building tomorrow’s cyber learning platform today


Life-long learning is best achieved through iterative re-solving of life’s questions, issues, and problems, both great and small,” says co-author Armanda Lewis, PhD, and doctoral candidate in Steinhardt’s educational technology program. “Human interaction coupled with real-time computer simulation will enable learners at all levels to participate and take ownership of their learning process, thus contributing to the collective resolution of wicked challenges.”

The researchers posit that the use of technology, specifically a bundled and ever-evolving fluid set of integrated cyber tools, will connect disparate groups and individuals, converging them in both a real and an imagined cyber-social-physical environment, called the Holodeck, that Burleson’s NYU-X Lab is currently advancing in prototype form, in close collaboration with colleagues at NYU Courant, Tandon, Steinhardt, and Tisch,

“The “Holodeck” will support a broad range of transdisciplinary collaborations, integrated education, research, and innovation by providing a networked software/hardware infrastructure that can synthesize visual, audio, physical, social, and societal components,” said Burleson. “By 2041 we will have taken the individualness of AIED, and carried it across multiple learners, synchronizing inputs and outputs, so that the whole is far far greater than the sum of the individual parts.”

When Rittel and Webber published their seminal paper, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” in 1973, the fastest supercomputer (a Control Data CDC 7600) had a clock rate of 36.4MHz. They could only have imagined smart phones, pocket-sized tools with clock rates exceeding 1.5 GHz—some 400 times faster than the CDC7600. Their tools to model, simulate, and live in possible futures as they re-solved the wicked challenges of their day were, by today’s standards, very limited. Their computational tools, for example, were largely inaccessible, taking up entire rooms, with only rudimentary graphic and network capabilities.

NYU-X Lab’s Holodeck prototype harnesses the collective power of shared computation, integrated distributed data, immersive visualization, and social interaction to make possible large-scale synthesis of learning, research, and innovation, that will dramatically accelerate the Rittel and Webber iterative mode of problem solving.

“The idea,” continued Lewis, “is to effectively create a global meritocratic network using advanced versions of the NYU-X Lab Holodeck to create scenarios and engage in real-world problem solving; teaching others what you have learned, and creating the potential to re-solve society’s wicked challenges while empowering every citizen to realize her or his full potential.”

Burleson and Lewis posit that the NYU-X Holodeck will be a foundational model for the future of cyberlearning experience, offering a software/hardware instrument that seamlessly integrates visual, audio, and physical (haptics, objects, real-time fabrication) components with novel emerging technologies.

“This system enhances social interactions (human-human, human- virtual agent, and human-robot) by creating a powerful, unified education and research environment and network,” notes Burleson. “Capabilities support capture of comprehensive behavioral, physiological, affective, and cognitive data; visualization and real time data analysis; and sophisticated scenario modeling and user engagement.

Key aspects of the Holodeck are: personal stories and interactive experiences that make it a rich environment; open streaming content that make it real and compelling; and contributions that personalize the learning experience. The goal is to create a networked infrastructure and communication environment where “wicked challenges” can be iteratively explored and re-solved, utilizing visual, acoustic, and physical sensory feedback, human dynamics with and social collaboration.

Burleson and Lewis envision in 2041 that learning is unlimited – each individual can create a teacher, team, community, world, galaxy or universe of their own. The NYU-X Holodeck will become an environment where possible worlds and experiences can be imagined to help re-solve “wicked challenges”, creating ever-evolving solutions which shape humanity’s continuing evolution.

“Cyberlearning strives to ensure that each stakeholder is empowered to reach her or his full potential,” comments Burleson and Lewis, speaking from the future. “We are proud of what we have achieved, and are cautiously optimistic for what our future holds. The future belongs to us all and we are motivated by our responsibility to continue our evolution toward utopia.”


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