One TA is Not Like the Others

Could the future of education be Artificial Intelligence? 

If your teacher was AI, would you notice? Would you feel duped that you weren’t being taught by a real human? Or would you be awestruck by advanced technology’s capabilities? Perhaps a mix of both.

In spring of 2016, Georgia Tech professor Ashok Goel’s course about Artificial Intelligence had nine teaching assistants. One of them was not like the others; unknown to students, one of them was not human. 

Jill Watson, an artificial intelligence program implemented on IBM Watson’s platform, was fed 40 thousand forum posts from prior semesters. While students change, the questions they ask often repeat semester after semester, and Jill wouldn’t get tired of answering them as many times as needed. 

At first, Jill wasn’t very good at her job; she would use the keywords in the question but assumed wrongly what the context of the question was. Her answers weren’t released to the students until she began to answer with 97% accuracy, due to modifications of her algorithm. 

At the end of the semester, Goel finally spilt the beans, much to the awe of students who had been interacting with an AI TA for most of the semester. Only one student had guessed at the secret. Over following semesters, Goel renamed Jill with many different names and didn’t tell his students who was human and who was AI, revealing the mystery at the end of each semester. 

This experiment raised questions about whether AI will replace labor, reducing job opportunities for humans who need them. Could AI like Jill cause colleges to hire less professors and TAs to save money? In Goel’s case, he still had 8 other TAs who answered questions that Jill couldn’t. Goel hopes that in the future, as AI becomes more prevalent in education and other fields, AI will allow humans to choose creative careers instead of monotonous jobs, and fill in jobs that have a shortage of humans applying for them. 

In 2020, Carnegie Learning, an organization founded by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, won an award for their program MATHia, an AI that offers personalized algebra tutoring. MATHia can not only guide students on a math problem, it can also predict why a student may not be understanding the concept, and target their specific misunderstanding, as well as adapting to the student’s pace and level. MATHia supported students during the pandemic, when many students were struggling with the switch to online learning. According to a study, students who used MATHia had grade averages of about 8 points greater compared to those who did not. 

This shows how AI has the potential to be a valuable addition in the classroom compared to human teachers who may not be able to tailor lessons to each student or spend one-on-one time with students who need extra support. Do you think the future of education is Artificial Intelligence? 


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Maderer, J. (2016, May 9). Artificial Intelligence Course creates AI Teaching assistant. Georgia Tech News Center. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Stirgus, E. (2017, January 31). She has quite a brain, but this teaching assistant is just not human. ajc. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Aparna is a 2nd year computer science major, focused on media and modeling & simulation. Her dream job is to work at an animation studio. In her free time, she likes to doodle, read fantasy & mystery novels, and waste time on TikTok.