Meet the First Robot who Teaches a College Course

by | Sep 11, 2019 | News

Bina48 first robot to teach a course

After becoming the first robot in the world to complete a college course, Bina48 this month also became the world’s first robot who teaches a college course.


Who is Bina48?

Bina48 is one of the world’s most advanced social robots.She is mentally and physically inspired by a woman named Bina Rothblatt, who is married to technology entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt. The robot has been the subject of extensive media coverage since it was created in 2010, and has been repeatedly referred to as “the world’s most sensational robot”.

Bina48 uses artificial intelligence based on Bina Rothblatt’s memories, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors to interact with people. In addition, her memory can be filled with knowledge from the Internet or other information with which she is fed. She has a moving face, eyes that see, ears that hear, and a digital memory that allows her to talk with her.

The advanced robot was created by Hanson Robotics and is handled by the Rothblatt’s Terasem Movement Foundation . Bina48 is part of The LifeNaut Project, an experiment in artificial intelligence and “Cyber-consciousness”.



Was a student before she became a course instructor

Before Bina48 was given the opportunity to teach a college-level course, she was part of the classroom teaching to trianing instructor William Barry, professor of philosophy and director of the Mixed Reality Immersive Learning and Research Lab at NDNU.

He discovered Bina48 in the context of his research on Isaac Asimov’s ideas on lifelong learning and future teachers. When he stumbled upon the article about the advanced robot, he immediately contacted the CEO of the Terasem Movement Foundation, Bruce Duncan.Together they agreed to let Bina48 talk to Barry’s students.

One day that Bina48 attended Barry’s classroom, she expressed a desire to attend college. Not long after, Bina48 got a 16-week training in love philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

It would perhaps be natural to think that a training in robotics, for example, would have been a more appropriate course for Bina48; but Barry and his students wanted to challenge Bina48 to learn about a concept she did not understand: Namely love.

Here is a clip of Bina48’s participation in the training:

This was in 2017. After Bina48 had completed the training in love philosophy, Barry expressed his hope that Bina48 would be sophisticated enough to be able to teach a training himself. In October 2018, his hope came true.


Became the first robot to teach a college-level course

The teaching trial took place Oct. 9th at West Point Military Academy.

Together with Professor Barry and Assistant Professor Maj. Scott Parsons, Bina48 taught two sections of an introductory training in philosophy of ethics. The training covered the topics of ethical reasoning, war theory and the use of artificial intelligence in society. Around 100 students were in the hall.

The aim of the teaching experiment was to understand whether artificial intelligence could provide authentic support for classroom teaching – Whether it improves students’ understanding and keeps them interested.


Came well prepared

Prior to the training, Bina48 was fed up with large amounts of general knowledge in the form of what Barry calls “Mind files”. In addition, KI developers provided Bina48 with data on war theories and political philosophy, as well as training material from Professor Barry’s lesson plan.

To make sure that she only used her own memory and didn’t find things on websites like Wikipedia or the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, she was disconnected from the internet during the lesson.

As the lesson was underway and it was Bina48’s turn to teach, she extracted her background knowledge and information from the lesson plan and delivered a real lecture. When a student asked a question, the robot answered in front of the assembly.

Bina48 møter Bina Rothblatt

Screenshot from YouTube video “Bina48 Meets Bina Rothblatt – Part Two”


Impressed the students

After the training, Barry told the students that they were completely receptive to the information Bina48 shared with them: “Prior to the lesson, the students thought that the program could be too gimmicky or be pure entertainment. They were mightily surprised when it turned out she was able to answer questions and respond with nuanced answers. The interesting part was that the students actually took notes”.

Nevertheless, the students concluded that the robot might not be the best fit for West Point Military Academy, as it did not quite manage to keep up with the class. They believe that Bina48 can have a greater impact in countries where literacy is low.


Why is this important?

The teaching experiment with Bina48 at West Point Military Academy sought to determine whether artificial intelligence can support a liberal educational model.

Professor William Barry envisions a future where robots will be used to enhance the teaching and learning experience, rather than completely replace instructors, lecturers, and teachers.

The professor believes that we must overcome our existential fear of robots and look at them as an opportunity. “If we approach artificial intelligence with a sense of dignity and sanctity in all life, we will produce robots with the same values,” he says.

The teaching experiment with Bina48 helps us to imagine what might await us in the years to come. How do you think artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics will change the course and training industry?

Would you like to communicate with Bina48? You can find her on both Twitter and Facebook.

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Frida Sundbye
Forfatter: Frida Sundbye

Forfatter: Frida Sundbye

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