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Artificial Intelligence

Carnegie Mellon Prof Named Learning XPrize Finalist for RoboTutor Tool

A team led by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor Jack Mostow has won $1 million as a Global Learning XPrize finalist for its RoboTutor software.

"The Global Learning XPRIZE challenges teams from around the world to develop open source and scalable software that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months," according to information on the contest's site.

Mostow, whose research focuses on artificial intelligence in education technology with an emphasis on reading, is one of five finalists selected to win the cash and have their apps independently tested over 15 months in nearly 200 Tanzanian villages to decide which team will be awarded the $10 million grand prize.

"The RoboTutor software is based on scientific learning principles in order to engage students so that they learn the material and can then use it in other contexts," according to a CMU news release. "It is powered by advanced technologies, including speech and handwriting recognition, facial analysis and machine learning. It collects data from its interactions with children both to enable cognitive tutors to adapt to individual students and to enable innovative data mining tools to continuously evaluate and refine its design and functionality."

The software is based on previous research by Mostow, a professor in the Robotics Institute of the university's School of Computer Science, including his Project LISTEN tool, which featured an automated reading tutor that listened to students read aloud and corrected them when they made mistakes.

With hundreds of activities, RoboTutor focuses on reading and writing, shapes, comprehension and numbers and math, and features a design process that is intended to help it integrate with a local culture.

"It's hard to put into words to explain the gratifying feeling knowing that your career's work, which has helped thousands of children so far, could now potentially change the lives of millions — even billions — of children," Mostow said in a prepared statement. "XPrize and the RoboTutor team have given me the opportunity of a lifetime."

The team includes more than 100 CMU students and faculty members, as well as other experts and students from around the world, and the software features technology owned by the university and licensed by the RoboTutor team.

"Universal access to education is a major priority for XPRIZE, and we are proud to celebrate the change-making teams making impressive strides to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into her own hands," said Marcus Shingles, CEO of the XPrize Foundation, in a prepared statement. "The leading solutions born from this competition could provide the key to unlocking literacy for children most in need, access an education they otherwise wouldn't have."

For more information about the Global Learning XPrize, or to learn about the other finalists, visit

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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