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Wellington sticks the boot in – a blog by Philip King FCICM

14 September 2017

I was fascinated by a report earlier in the week quoting comments from Sir Anthony Seldon who was formerly headmaster of Wellington College, and is writing a book titled The Fourth Revolution.

Sir Anthony predicts that the imminent arrival of robot teachers will herald the greatest revolution in education since the printing press. The image of ‘robot teachers’ is a bit surreal but the detail of his comments is less so. He suggests that personalised learning facilitated by artificial intelligence (AI) will mean that every student, regardless of environment or background will receive education of a standard higher than any available today. Computer programmes able to learn students’ individual learning styles will be able to tailor courses to their precise needs, and a class will no longer need to progress at the rate of its slowest member.

Sir Anthony talks about our ‘factory model of education’ whereby everyone arrives at the same time of day and moves up by ages, when it is transparently clear that a 13-year old might be at the level of a 10-year old in French and a 17-year old in maths. Then they sit in classes with a teacher at best giving a 30th of their attention. He envisages a future where an electronic virtual teacher follows a pupil throughout their childhood. “It will have learnt your preferences, motivations, quirks, and difficulties so it can move at the speed of the learner.” The machines will adapt to individual learners, listening to their voice, reading their face, and studying them intently in the same way a gifted teacher does.

If robot teachers conjure up a picture that is difficult to envision, the use of AI is rapidly gaining reality. Whether we like it or not, technological progress is not going to stand still and the capacity of machines to make decisions and actions currently undertaken by humans cannot be disregarded. I vividly recall buying a magazine for my children that had a floppy disc attached; I loaded the disc on to our computer and – voila – a learning programme was available. This, at the time, was exciting and spellbinding. Looking back, of course, it’s clear that the software was so simple as to be nothing more than an activity book with some rules added!

Time moves on and the ability for machines to make decisions, set activities, and drive implementation is already here. Facial recognition is gaining momentum, witness the latest Apple launch this week, and we’re at a point I couldn’t even imagine when I was loading my floppy discs in the 90s (or was it even late 80s?).

Returning to Sir Anthony’s views, he says: “The teacher will no longer be the person standing up at the front………..Teachers will be organisers, structurers, discipliners.” This is not about machine replacing man, it’s about machines complementing human activity and allowing for the development of different skills and a richer contribution from individuals.

Credit management is no different; AI is changing the way we do things, it will simplify processes, accelerate our actions, and deliver efficiency and consistency. Just as importantly, it’s going to free credit professionals to support business in different ways, build stronger relationships, develop true supplier/buyer partnerships, and add more value than ever. Because it’s such a fundamental issue, the CICM will be looking at technology and its impacts and opportunities over the coming weeks and months through a variety of channels including future blogs from time to time. We need to embrace, exploit, and welcome the change; in 20 or 30 years time, people will look back and laugh at how simple and basic things were in our time.



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