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‘AI will change the very way we live, learn, work and play’

  • February 15, 2024

With experience leading AI teams for Meta and IBM, Jerome Pesenti knows the potential of this technology, but his current focus is on boosting equity in education.

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AI has surged in popularity in recent years, but this is no surprise to Jerome Pesenti, the founder of Sizzle AI.

Before his venture into edtech, Pesenti was an influential figure in the world of AI. He was the VP of AI at Meta, where he led the company’s AI team between 2018 and 2022. During this period, the company was working on multiple ambitious AI projects, including universal speech translation and large language models to support AI researchers.

Before this, Pesenti also led a global team of researchers and software engineers within IBM Watson, where he helped develop “state-of-the-art software in question and answering, dialog, speech, natural language processing, and automated machine translation”.

“We built some of the first AI cloud services,” Pesenti said.

Pesenti said one of his passions at Meta was on making the company’s products “safer and more valuable to people through the use of AI”. But he also questioned if the technology was “having a positive impact”.

“When an AI system is optimised to keep us engaged (doom scrolling) is it making our lives better,” he said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Pesenti said he became the primary tutor for his children and saw the “immense, untapped potential” that AI can bring to education. This prompted him to launch Sizzle AI, which is advertised as a “free AI tutor for everyone”.

“My vision was to use what we’ve learned from applying AI algorithms in social media to education to build an app that makes learning personalised, engaging and effective,” Pesenti said.

Sizzle AI launched last August and has reached 100,000 weekly active users, according to Pesenti. He said the company is working to expand what the app can offer and double its team size in 2024.

The impact of AI

While education is the main focus for Pesenti these days, he still believes in the power of AI across multiple sectors and said the technology will “change the very way we live, learn, work and play”.

But he also shared concerns about some of the limitations of AI, noting the “accuracy challenge” that still exists in these systems.

While this technology has surged in popularity since the rise of generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT, there are plenty of examples where these systems make mistakes that are portrayed as fact. A study last year also claimed that AI can trick people into believing false information better than humans can.

“Helping billions of users remember AI’s limitations while using it every day has to be top priority,” Pesenti said. “We will have even bigger questions about privacy, ethical use of AI requiring new legal frameworks that protect those who need it most while not stifling innovation.”

The balance between regulation and allowing innovation has been seen in the development of the EU’s AI Act. Some countries wanted softer regulations on foundational models to reduce the impact on innovation, while some critics claim the AI Act relies too much on companies regulating themselves.

AI in education

Pesenti said generative AI is “throwing a wrench” into the education system as students are adopting these systems at “an unprecedented pace”. There were mixed responses among academics when students began using ChatGPT last year – some called for a full ban of its use while others said it could benefit students.

Last year, Ireland’s first AI ambassador Patricia Scanlon said that AI can make learning more efficient and accessible if we rethink our education system.

Pesenti believes the adoption of generative AI systems like ChatGPT or his own Sizzle AI is “a good thing” and claims current education systems have not changed in a long time.

“Even when we know how to teach better, it takes decades for that learning to be adopted,” Pesenti said. “This is also why many US parents are now taking their children out of the educational system because a few hours of personalised one-to-one time can be as effective as a day in school.”

He also claimed that massive open online courses had “a big promise” but failed to really move the needle in terms of equity and efficiency in education.

“GenAI will disrupt that system and has the potential to make a big dent into the equity challenge,” Pesenti said. “While very few privileged students have access to one-to-one tutoring (which we know works), we can now imagine a world where every student has access to a personalised AI tutor.”

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