Khan Academy’s founder says AI ‘coaches’ will soon submit essays to teachers instead of students

Sal Khan, who is responsible for teaching more than 130 million students about writing, reading and math as the founder of free online learning nonprofit Khan Academy, recognized AI’s potential to open the cheating floodgates from the moment he got access to OpenAI’s GPT-4 technology in 2022.

“That first weekend we had access, we were like ‘This could be used to cheat’,” Khan said Monday in an onstage interview at Fortune’s Brainstorm AI conference in San Francisco. By the time Khan Academy released its GPT-powered tutor Khanmigo, in March 2023, Khan had installed multiple safeguards to prevent students from using it as a cheat tool.

“There’s a lot of guardrails there,” Khan said, describing features for teachers to control what information students can ask the bot, as well as automated monitoring features to flag inappropriate uses of the tool.

But while Khan said the internet has long been a resource for cheating (“Before ChatGPT and generative AI, there were plenty of websites on the internet where you could pay $5 and they’ll hire someone in Kenya to write your papers for you”), the power of AI means that the concept of learning and teaching itself will evolve.

The student essay, for example, is likely to change significantly as a result of AI, with bots serving as a writing “coach” for students and teachers. “Khanmigo will then tell the students, ‘Hey, let’s work on this paper together. I’m not going to do it for you, but I’m gonna be your coach. I’m going to give you feedback.’”

Instead of a student simply submitting an essay, Khan said that an AI bot could deliver the essay to the teacher, along with information about the process the student and the bot went through to craft a thesis statement, how long it took, and even how many other students in the class struggled with similar parts of the writing process.

“Essays will always have real value,” Khan said, “but it could be a simulation, conversation or interview—[any means] to make sure the information the students are using is accurate.”

Khan started Khan Academy in 2006 to teach math remotely to his cousin. Since then, the company has educated hundreds of millions of students at no cost via the internet in subjects that range from trigonometry to financial literacy. And last year, the company partnered with OpenAI’s GPT-4 to launch an AI tutor called Khanmigo. 

His words should hold significant weight, not just for e-learners, but for parents and children involved in American public schools: Khan is in talks with school districts that would give “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of children access to Khanmigo for day-to-day learning. 

“The more we’ve worked on [Khanmigo], we realized we can do things that even transcend the traditional tutor,” says Khan. 

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