The future of teaching? Asimov's three laws and the hypothetical robot teacher

Robertson, Nicola (2021) The future of teaching? Asimov's three laws and the hypothetical robot teacher. Prism: Casting New Light on Learning, Theory and Practice. ISSN 2514-5347 (

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Whether we like it or not, there is no denying that technology's contribution to teaching and learning practice has grown exponentially in recent months. The screen has become the classroom; the teacher (and the students) an apparition. Nevertheless, despite the barriers of distance and screen, there remains something distinctly human about these interactions. What if the teacher on the screen – and, indeed, in the classroom – was not human? Remotely controlled robotic teachers have been trialled in China with positive feedback from students; yet, teaching remains a profession that has been deemed at low risk of automation. This paper will consider Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics as a foundational base for predicting the behaviour of a potential, autonomous, robot teacher. I will then compare these predictions with those behaviours necessarily undertaken in the practice of teaching, via the presentation of three hypothetical scenarios, to determine whether the robot could carry them out; asking, in effect, if a robot can do teaching. Any speculative answer to this question should inspire further discourse on the concept of teacher, what difference (if any) lies between doing and being, and whether a robot who can do teaching can, therefore, also be a teacher.