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Robots won’t replace teachers because they can’t inspire us

But artificial intelligence is coming to colleges in some form, Coursera president Daphne Koller says.

Artificial intelligence is going to change everything in every industry. Right?

Not so fast, says Coursera president and co-founder Daphne Koller. Her education company markets itself as being ahead of technological disruption, but even it isn’t so sure AI can do everything that a human college professor can do.

"Instructors are valuable, first of all, in creating the content. That’s really important," Koller said in an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher on the latest episode of Recode Decode. "But I also think it’s important to have someone there to answer the really challenging questions if you really get stuck. And also, people will tell you that one of the most inspirational experiences they’ve had, that have often shaped their life, is someone who’s been a really inspirational teacher."

She acknowledged that "over time, you’ll have more and more questions that a computer can answer." But whether from fellow students or flesh-and-blood teachers, she argued, we need to draw inspiration from other people.

"People are social animals," Koller said. "They like to learn in groups and they like to learn from people."

Of course, not replacing teachers doesn’t mean AI won’t have an effect. Artificial intelligence could, say, heavily influence how the human teacher runs the show, giving that instructor more time to focus on the three skills Koller identified as irreplaceable: Content creation, answering tough questions and inspiration.

On the new podcast, Koller also talked about whether virtual reality will similarly affect teachers’ and students’ experiences in higher education. Calling VR "in a very early stage," she said those content-creating teachers will be the ones to figure out how the tech might show students things they otherwise never would see.

"I think VR, to have people pretend they’re in the classroom, is rather retro," Koller said. "You can be bored in VR as opposed to being bored in person. But having someone undergo a virtual experience of diving the Great Barrier Reef or being in colonial times or going into the pyramids in Egypt, those are experiences most people will never have a chance to replicate. That’s where VR can play a role, creating these magical experiences that are immersive."

To hear the whole conversation, subscribe to Recode Decode on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

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