Google’s AI plans make its education dominance more alarming

p 2 shattering the glass ceiling isnt enough its time to redesign the workplace from the ground up

When Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the corporate’s annual I/O Builders Convention on Could 18, 2021, he made two bulletins suggesting Google is now the world’s strongest group in education. Opening the livestreamed keynote from the Mountain View campus gardens, Pichai celebrated how Google had been capable of “assist college students and academics proceed studying from anyplace” through the pandemic.

Minutes later, he introduced Google’s new AI language platform, a central a part of the corporate’s long-term AI technique, with a particular use-case instance from education. LaMDA (Language Mannequin for Dialogue Functions), he claimed, might allow college students to ask pure language questions and obtain wise, factual, and attention-grabbing conversational responses.

“So if a pupil needed to find more about area,” Pichai wrote on the company blog, “the mannequin would give wise responses, making studying even more enjoyable and interesting. If that pupil then needed to change over to a distinct subject,” he added, “LaMDA might proceed the dialog with none retraining.” The corporate plan is to embed LaMDA in its Workspace suite of cloud computing instruments, software program, and merchandise.


These proclamations point out how Google plans to advance its enterprise in education following the disruptions of COVID-19—by consolidating the massive progress of its platforms in faculties and integrating AI into instructing and studying. That’s elevating contemporary issues amongst privateness campaigners and researchers as a result of it provides Google entry to knowledge about college students and faculties at worldwide scale.

Google’s world classroom

With faculties reopening worldwide, Google has labored arduous to make sure the massive market positive factors it made in 2020 might be sustained and strengthened as college students return to bodily fairly than digital school rooms. With consumer numbers of its digital studying platform, Google Classroom, as much as 150 million from 40 million only a yr earlier than, it introduced a brand new “road map” for the platform in early 2021.

“As more academics use Classroom as their ‘hub’ of studying through the pandemic, many colleges are treating it as their studying administration system (LMS),” wrote Classroom’s program supervisor. “Whereas we didn’t got down to create an LMS, Classroom is dedicated to assembly the evolving wants of colleges.”

The street map for Classroom as a college LMS was only one plan laid out at its annual Learning with Google convention, which additionally included the launch of 40 new Chromebook laptop computer fashions alongside function upgrades throughout its academic merchandise. These developments illustrate an ongoing strategic enlargement that Google has been pursuing in education for 15 years, since launching its free software program for education in 2006 and low-cost Chromebooks in 2011. Its aggressive edge in each college {hardware} and software program has solely superior through the pandemic.

The regular extension of Google’s attain in education has at all times been extremely controversial. 5 years in the past, the nonprofit digital liberties group the Digital Frontier Basis filed an official complaint with the Federal Commerce Fee in opposition to Google for amassing and knowledge mining schoolchildren’s private info from Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education (since renamed Workspace for Education) with out permission or opt-out choices. Researchers from the College of Boras in Sweden highlighted how the privacy policy of Google Apps for Education disguised its enterprise mannequin, making it nearly unimaginable to determine what knowledge it collected about college students and what Google makes use of it for.

Google’s knowledge mining in education has solely turn into more contested. In February 2020, the lawyer basic of New Mexico filed a lawsuit alleging Google violates the privacy of students who use its Chromebooks and software program, in contravention of each federal legislation and the Student Privacy Pledge to which Google is itself a signatory. Google, claimed the lawyer basic, had pledged to solely gather, keep, use, and share pupil knowledge expressly for academic functions, however was persevering with to mine it for industrial functions.

Nonetheless, within the months following, Google continued to increase throughout education programs worldwide, usually with the backing of state or nationwide degree departments of education and worldwide organizations such because the OECD.


Controversies over knowledge assortment and sharing are prone to intensify with the enlargement of Classroom. Analysis revealed by a staff from universities in Australia and the U.Ok., to which I contributed lately, highlighted how lots of of exterior education expertise suppliers are integrated into Classroom, doubtlessly enabling Google to increase its knowledge extraction practices far past the platform. The street map for Classroom confirms its plans to increase these integrations, by means of a “market” of “Classroom add-ons” that academics can then assign with out requiring further college students’ log-ins. This makes Classroom itself the primary gateway for college students to entry different non-Google sources.

These developments give Google extraordinary gatekeeping energy within the education expertise trade, because it units the principles for different third-party suppliers to combine with Classroom and for the trade of knowledge between them. In its new position as an LMS, Classroom may even combine with current college info programs, appearing as the important thing interface between a college and its pupil information.

Collectively, the enlargement of Classroom and its integrations prioritize a selected mannequin of education premised on fixed assortment and trade of pupil knowledge throughout platforms through the Google Cloud. The excellence between industrial goal and academic goal is more and more troublesome to establish in these developments. Google’s data-extractive enterprise mannequin has turn into symmetrical with and supportive of digital approaches to instructing and studying that Google itself has helped set up as a worldwide mannequin for the way forward for education.

Techno-ethical auditing

Google now appears to be like prone to push its new AI performance into faculties too. Education is not going to be the one sector of society affected by Google’s conversational AI interface—although, as Sundar Pichai’s announcement at I/O made plain, education is an apparent use case for such applied sciences.

Giant language mannequin applied sciences are among the many most contentious of Google’s current developments. Late final yr, a bunch of researchers, together with the 2 co-leads of the Moral AI staff at Google itself, produced a analysis paper claiming harmful ideas, biases, and misleading information are embedded in these fashions. Google subsequently fired the authors from its Moral AI staff, resulting in widespread condemnation and critical questions concerning the long-term moral implications of its AI technique.

This raises the troubling query of whether or not putting in Google’s language AI applied sciences in academic merchandise would possibly reproduce biases and misinformation throughout the establishments of education. At I/O, Pichai maintained additional growth will guarantee “equity, accuracy, security, and privateness” are baked in to LaMDA earlier than full rollout, although the firing of its Moral AI specialists weakens the credibility of those assertions.

In accordance with the authors of a brand new analysis paper, “Don’t Be Evil: Should We Use Google in Schools?,” the corporate deserves far higher scrutiny earlier than any additional enlargement in education. Utilizing a way of “techno-ethical auditing,” the analysis staff from the College of North Texas discovered that “Google extracts private knowledge from college students, skirts legal guidelines supposed to guard them, targets them for income, obfuscates the corporate’s intent of their Phrases of Service, recommends dangerous info, and distorts college students’ information.”

Techno-ethical auditing is a vital step to handle Google’s rising position in education. However bigger questions stay about non-public expertise corporations’ affect in state and public education programs, and the potential of latest AI and cloud computing platforms to alter the practices and priorities of the education sector.

Personal firm involvement in education just isn’t new, however the worldwide scale of Massive Tech affect, and the technological and moral implications of rising platforms, AI, and knowledge programs in faculties do demand contemporary consideration. Google has produced the {hardware}, software program, and underlying cloud and knowledge programs on which education programs are more and more dependent, at scales that cross geographical and political borders and continents. These are technical, moral, and political points that ought to not solely be delegated to educators and college leaders to type out. They have to be addressed on the regulatory degree, and thru democratic, collective dialogue about the way forward for faculties past the pandemic.

Ben Williamson is a senior analysis fellow on the College of Edinburgh, U.Ok., and is on Twitter @BenPatrickWill.