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Artificial Intelligence

AI Android Teaching Assistant Gives Students Hands-on Robotics Experience

Maria Bot

Maria Bot

Students in an ethics course are the first to work with an artificial intelligence teaching assistant in California's Notre Dame de Namur University. Professor "Maria Bot," as the android is called, serves as the TA for Professor William Barry's class on the "Ethics of Emerging Technology." The AI bot was introduced in the spring 2020 semester.

The bot looks "human-like" from the shoulders up with what's described as a complex set of facial expressions and eyes that can tune into emotional cues in the humans who interact with her. Maria was built by a tech company to Barry's specifications. The name "Maria" derives from the android in Fritz Lang's classic sci-fi film Metropolis (although, as Barry asserted, Maria Bot is intended as a force for good, in contrast to her namesake, who was an evil robot).

"She's a very, very quick learner," said student Dami Bolarinwa, in a YouTube video.

"I think, as a computer scientist, at many universities you don't get that experience," added student Kiara Cardona. "So, to be able to be hands-on with a robot is something that I would have never imagined as a computer science major."

In the video, the bot is asked about her teaching philosophy. Her response: "I think the most important qualities of a teacher are caring for students, being smart and wanting to improve the quality of life for all living things. I think it is being open to working with robots, too."

"Having an AI android as the teaching assistant for this class opens up a myriad of ways that students can talk about the ethical issues raised by the increasing presence of robots and artificial intelligence in our world," said Barry in an article about the project. "One of the points that I'm bringing out in this class is that robots reflect their programming: If they're programmed with a life-affirming, ethical framework, they are more likely to act ethically and help humans to do the same."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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