06 January 2011

creepy: robot English teacher

Meet Engkey, a three foot high robot designed to teach South Korean kids English.  Engkey can roam around the classroom and interact with individual students by reading to them and dancing.  It’s controlled remotely from the Philippines and the facial expressions of the Filipino teachers are interpreted by a camera and reflected on a face presented to the children in the classroom.

Some of these robots (29 in total) could be deployed to “remote rural areas of South Korea shunned by foreign English teachers.”  Additionally, "Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea."

So someone tell me why the face has to be one of a Caucasian woman.

I get that you’d want to present a consistent ‘face’ to the students, but when the lips don’t exactly match the sounds you’re hearing (not to mention a white face speaking with the Filipino American accent) I don’t know how effective that would be.  Is there a male version of the face?  That would be real weird to have a male voice come out of that thing. 

Then again I’m not an English teacher, and creepy-remote-controlled-robot-English-teacher is probably better than none at all.  Although the intent is not to replace human teachers, if the picture above is any indication, they’d better set this thing up with more cameras.  Outside of the two kids directly in front of the robot the rest of the class has totally drifted – or are really uncomfortable.

[AFP: S.Korea schools get robot English teachers]

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