I recently met my nephew on a Saturday morning in the midst of his weekend math homework session. He sat down with a worksheet and, within seconds, pronounced that he was done. This is what he’d written.
Educational content on almost every topic under the sun today is ubiquitous and mostly free. But this simply doesn’t work for most of us because we aren’t inherently autodidacts and learn best in an interactive setting.
We also live in a world today where student-teacher ratios are vastly improved vs a generation ago. Nevertheless, so long as curriculum delivery (including homework) isn’t customised to the learning styles & capabilities of each individual, source material is prone to becoming either too challenging or too boring.
The Diamond Age of Ed Tech
If you’re a Web3 or Crypto aficionado, you’ve no doubt read visionary author Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash which introduced the term “metaverse” to the world.
A somewhat less exciting but probably more important work of Stephenson’s is The Diamond Age. The Diamond Age, which follows the life of a young girl named Nell, is a bildungsroman in its truest sense.
Nanotech is the primary theme of the book, and much if not all of the action happens offline & IRL.
That said, I believe that much of the book’s ideas could easily be realized with AI, sans the nanotech, in just a few years.
Here is one possible iteration of how that might become possible, told through scenes from the lives of characters from The Diamond Age written using ChatGPT and illustrated using Stable Diffusion.
INT. FIONA’S STUDY, PEAK, HONG KONG - DAY
We see FIONA, an 6-year-old girl, sitting at a desk with MISS TEQUILA, an au pair.
MISS TEQUILA is holding a colouring book with the picture of a pizza.
MISS TEQUILA immigrated to Hong Kong 10 years ago after finishing high school.
She recently spent 6 months getting trained and certified as a curriculum delivery person (CDP) by EduQation.
She is wearing a tiny earbud in her right ear which is linked to EduBot installed on her phone.
EduBot listens in and cues Miss Tequila’s responses to Fiona.
(in a gentle voice)
Fiona, can you tell me what this is?
(looks at the picture)
It’s a pizza.
That’s right. And can you tell me what this pizza is made of?
Fiona and Miss Tequila both laugh.
(thinking a bit)
Pizza base, sauce, cheese, and toppings.
Correct. Can you see how the pizza is divided into slices?
Yeah, it’s divided into eight slices.
Exactly. And do you know what each slice is called?
(shakes her head)
Each slice is called a fraction. It’s a part of the whole pizza.
I don’t understand.
It’s okay. Let’s use this pizza as an example. If we say the whole pizza is one, and there are eight slices, then each slice is one-eighth. Do you see?
(looks at the picture, then at MISS TEQUILA)
Oh, I think I understand now.
Excellent work, Fiona.
Fiona looks at the clock on the wall.
Miss Tequila, is it lunchtime yet?
As a matter of fact, it is. And I have a special surprise for you.
Fiona’s eyes widen in excitement as Miss Tequila leads her to the kitchen.
INT. KITCHEN, PEAK - DAY
Fiona squeals in surprise when she sees an actual pizza on the counter, with her favourite toppings.
Miss Tequila, you made me a pizza!
I wanted to reward you for your excellent work.
Fiona runs to Miss Tequila and hugs her.
Thank you, Miss TEQUILA!
(returns the hug)
You’re welcome, Fiona.
The two of them sit down to enjoy their pizza together.
INT. NELL’S ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT - DAY, GREATER SHANGHAI TENEMENTS
We see NELL, an 8-year-old girl, sitting at a small table with her tablet in front of her. She is participating in a video conference with her teacher, MIRANDA, who is on the screen.
MIRANDA is an animated Vocaloid singer that NELL prefers to have teach her.
Good morning, Nell! Are you ready for our math lesson today?
Good morning, Miranda! I’m ready! I’ve been practising all week.
Wow, that’s great to hear! But first, why don’t we start by reviewing whole numbers?
(answers quickly and accurately)
Sure! Whole numbers are numbers that are greater than and including zero.
Exactly! And can you give me an example of a whole number?
Sure, the number 5 is a whole number.
And what about the number 0?
Zero is a whole number but it is not a natural number.
That’s right, Nell! You’re doing an excellent job. Now let’s move on to fractions.
(They continue discussing and Nell knows all her answers. Nell finishes the lesson early, and Miranda is impressed by her knowledge of fractions & whole numbers.)
Wow, Nell, you know all the answers! We finished the lesson early. Let’s celebrate!
Yes! Let’s sing “Orange Sunset”!
I love that song! You start.
Nell and Miranda begin singing alternate lines in the hit song “Orange Sunset”, a song about a young girl who is building a sandcastle by the beach at sunset.
I’m building a castle in the sand…
Watching the orange sunset hand in hand
(Singing continues inaudibly.)
That was such fun!
I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Miranda, what does a fraction with a denominator of zero mean?
That’s a great question, Nell. I’ll have to think about it and I’ll answer that for you another day.
Okay, thanks Miranda!
You’re welcome, Nell dear. Keep up the good work.
(The screen goes black as the video conference ends.)
MISS MATHESON: State your escalation.
MathBot x0A82D2: I am trying to understand the concept of dividing a number by zero, but I am unsure of how to do so.
MISS MATHESON: I see. In mathematics, it is not possible to divide a number by zero. Division by zero is undefined.
MathBot x0A82D2: I understand that, but could you please provide me with additional resources to better understand this concept?
MISS MATHESON: Of course. Some mathematicians who have worked on number theory and have written extensively on the topic of division by zero include George Cantor, Paul Erdős, and John Horton Conway. I suggest you start by reviewing their works.
MathBot x0A82D2: Thank you. I will begin researching their works.
MISS MATHESON: Let me know once you’re done if you have any other questions or need further assistance.
MathBot x0A82D2: I will, thank you.
DR X: I need you to phase into the avatar of Creator Zero Zero Charlie Alpha Niner Zero One
MathBot x0A82D2: Miranda, Animated Vocaloid. I have found 81,723 references to review and will commence phasing.
A few seconds pass.
MathBot x0A82D2: Phasing is complete.
DR X: Hi there, what is your name?
MIRANDA: You can call me Miranda, dear!
DR X: Can you sing for me the lyrics of your favourite song?
MIRANDA: My favourite huh? Well let me see..
I’ve been searching for someone like you,
Someone to fill my heart and make it new,
I’ve been waiting for so long,
And now that I’ve found you, I’ll never let go.
My love is only for you, baby,
I’ll be there for you, always and maybe,
With you by my side, I’m never alone,
Cause my love is only for you, baby.
Did you like that dear?
DR X: Excellent. Let’s talk about your childhood now. Where did you grow up?
(The dialogue continues as Dr X. asks Miranda about her career, music and personal life)
John Percival Hackworth & Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw
INT. WAITING ROOM - DAY
We see JOHN PERCIVAL HACKWORTH, the chief architect of EduQation, sitting in a waiting room outside the chambers of LORD ALEXANDER CHUNG-SIK FINKLE-MCGRAW.
Hackworth is dressed in a suit and tie, and appears to be deep in thought.
LORD FINKLE-MCGRAW’S ASSISTANT
Mr. Hackworth, Lord Finkle-McGraw is ready for you now.
INT. LORD FINKLE-MCGRAW’S CHAMBERS - DAY
Hackworth enters the chambers and sees LORD FINKLE-MCGRAW sitting at a large desk.
The room is decorated with expensive artwork and furnishings.
Lord Finkle-McGraw has a sheaf of papers on his table which he is trying to re-order.
(not looking up from his desk)
Good to see you, Mr. Hackworth. How are things at EduQation?
Things are well, thank you, Lord Finkle-McGraw.
(still arranging sheets of paper without looking up)
Have you considered my proposal, Mr. Hackworth?
Well.. as you know most of our users run their EduQation instances locally. We’ve been trying to figure out what user data we can give you, Lord Finkle-McGraw but we haven’t come up with a solution yet.
(looks up at and straight at Hackworth)
Mr. Hackworth, you do realize EduQation exists only because the State permits it.
You’re a smart man. I will give you another week to figure it out.
Yes, Lord Finkle-McGraw.
(dismissively returning to his sheaf of papers)
Good. That will be all, Mr. Hackworth.
Hackworth exits the chambers, looking defeated.
INT. CARL HOLLYWOOD’S BEDROOM - PRE-DAWN
We see CARL HOLLYWOOD, a middle-aged man with a tired expression, waking up from a large and luxurious bed.
It isn’t morning yet and it is still dark outside.
He gets out of bed quietly, not wanting to wake his sleeping wife.
Few know this but Carl is the creator of Miranda the Vocaloid musical sensation.
INT. CARL HOLLYWOOD’S BATHROOM (MOMENTS LATER)
Carl heads to the bathroom and turns on the lights.
He picks up an electric toothbrush and starts brushing his teeth. He glances up at the mirror and notices a small button on the corner. He taps it.
INT. CARL’S MESSAGE SCREEN (SIMULTANEOUSLY)
We see a message pop up on the mirror, showing that Carl has earned 28,223 EduQoin of royalties from EduQation.
INT. CARL HOLLYWOOD’S BATHROOM (SIMULTANEOUSLY)
Carl continues brushing his teeth while reading the message, a hint of a smile on his face.
Miranda, you never cease to amaze me.
INT. CARL HOLLYWOOD’S KITCHEN (MOMENTS LATER)
Carl walks into the kitchen, still in his pajamas.
He sees a cup of coffee on the counter, still steaming. He picks it up and takes a sip.
INT. CARL’S SCHEDULE SCREEN (SIMULTANEOUSLY)
Carl checks his schedule on his phone.
He sees that three children have used their reward points this week to ask for TruMeets with Miranda.
Carl sighs. He doesn’t understand why EduQation insists on offering TruMeets.
They could get their AI to simulate the interaction and these kids wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
It was a matter of principle perhaps.
INT. CARL HOLLYWOOD’S KITCHEN (SIMULTANEOUSLY)
Carl takes another sip of his coffee and looks thoughtful.
Nah, I shouldn’t complain, they’re kids after all, and I’m getting paid well.
EXT. CARL’S HOUSE - DAY (LATER)
We see Carl standing in his recording studio.
Carl stretches and then does his vocal warm-up routine.
(to house computer)
Somewhere far away, a little girl sees Miranda pop up on her screen. She smiles & waves.