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Natural Language Processing In Early Education

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a hot research area in artificial intelligence and computer science. The technology teaches machines to understand human language so they can more effectively communicate with us. NLP research is integrated with linguistics, context analysis and semantics.

This article will focus on how NLP and smart voice interactive interfaces are being applied in the field of early education — which involves learning, eg. language study, math, etc; and providing healthy companionship to build good habits and social skills.

Knowledge and Skills Education

Today’s NLP-powered early education products mainly focus on question answering and language study.

Drawing on their encyclopaedic databases, question answering (QA) systems can automatically answer queries posed by humans in natural language. Roobo’s cute Pudding robot is one of the most popular children’s QA devices. To build the system, Roobo developed multiple vertical domains, with each handling a particular topic area.

Language study is also important in early education, especially for children aged between three and six, or those whose parents may not always have enough time to talk with them. Machines powered by NLP technology are able to engage children in conversations that are rational and child appropriate, which helps them practice and develop both speaking and listening skills. Turing Robot’s NLP-powered DuoDuo for example specializes in teaching children Chinese and English.

Innovations in Early Education

Artificial intelligence-related products such as smart toys and chatbots have brought many changes to children’s education and entertainment. Natural voice interaction enabled by NLP technology in particular has driven a variety of innovative approaches to education.

Kids will always watch cartoons and read storybooks. But with the help of NLP technology, these passive experiences can be made more active through interactive picture books, which enable children for example to have conversations with characters within the story and discover new content in and alongside the storyline. The Bani Robot from 360 technology is one of the most popular products in this field: a robot that comes with a variety of interactive stories that the robot can read to children while displaying related information and images on its screen.

NLP technology is also being applied to on-demand multimedia content. For example a massive amount of children’s education-related media resources can be collected, and using simple voice commands, children can search for and select content of interest at any time. These products are designed to be child-friendly not only with regard to content, but also in their dialogue flow design and text to speech (TTS) technology. Amazon recently launched an Echo Dot Kids edition of its industry-leading smart speaker Alexa Echo, which features a multitude of materials for kids.

Behaviour and Habits

Training kids good behaviour and habits — for example to follow a regular routine, present a pleasant personality, maintain interest in studying and so on — is also important in early education. NLP technology and intelligent machines can help tackle this task, and a number of companies are already exploring opportunities in this market.

Recent improvements in NLP technology have produced advanced dialogue systems for today’s cutting-edge smart toys, which are able to push messages and initiate conversation scenarios. The DoDo robot from for example will remind children to brush their teeth, do their homework, and let them know when it’s bedtime — all via natural conversational dialogue. The device also encourages children to practice positive social behaviour, such as speaking politely and treating people with proper respect.

Another hot topic in early education these days is children’s machine quotient (MQ) — a gauge of their ability to familiarize themselves with machines for natural interactions. It’s believed that MQ is going to become one of the most essential skills for humans of any age in a future full of intelligent machines. Hence, it is necessary to cultivate MQ in kids from an early age. One of the most popular children’s MQ development products on the market is Anki’s Cozmo.
NLP is playing an increasing role in our everyday lives, and is being widely explored and deployed in the field of early education. Parents appreciate how smart devices can help their children’s early development; while for their part, younger users tend to have higher fault tolerance for new technology than adults.

NLP technology can be expected to continue to empower early education, particularly in skills and language learning, habit and behaviour training, and in conjunction with multimedia resources.

Author: Ying Shan | Editor: Michael Sarazen | Producer: Chain Zhang

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