In recent months, the rise of robots and fear of artificial intelligence taking jobs away from humans has been plastered all over the media and blogosphere.

So is The Terminator’s Sarah Connor right or are we just over-reacting?

BBC Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan reported on the emerging trend as universities, technology companies and publishers begin to experiment with automated ways of teaching. His article, Could robots be marking your homework? piqued our interest.

Despite its catchy title, the article focused on automation in teaching and artificial intelligence across education. ‘Digital teachers’ and their increasing sophistication were the main topic of debate amongst academics and industry experts. Although there was no firm conclusion to whether the move was good or bad, the article does highlight that experiments in education using artificial intelligence are already taking place. But how about in the world of educational assessment?

The importance of humans in assessment

When it comes to e-marking of high-stakes exams, our area of expertise, robots have yet to enter the picture for a very simple reason: marking of an essay or a comprehensive piece of coursework requires a level of human judgement that is beyond what robots are currently capable of.

Instead, e-marking harnesses technology to improve the efficiency of marking high-stakes exams whilst maximising the benefits of having a highly qualified and skilled examiner marking the scripts. For example, examiners can now choose to mark from home rather than having to travel to central marking centres, allowing exams to be marked and results delivered in a much more efficient manner.

Room for robots in assessment?

While we’re unlikely to want to swap human examiners for robots in the near future, it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for artificial intelligence in the assessment space.

For some low-stakes assessments taken on computer and with finite multiple choice, the evaluation of a candidate’s score can already be automated.

When it comes to high-stakes educational or professional exams, basic forms of automation already in use include tallying of exam marks upon an examiner’s completion of script marking.

Automated technologies are also increasingly useful in monitoring and interpreting data, enabling awarding bodies to moderate exam scripts across their pool of examiners or to identify trends that can inform improvements to exams.

Brave new world?

It is exciting to imagine how robotics and automated technologies can continue to free us from mundane and repetitive tasks, giving humans room to focus on providing specialist expertise.

The benefits offered by robotics and automation could slowly and steadily begin to contribute to the assessment landscape in new and innovative ways.

In the meantime, if you need some reassurance that robots still have a way to go in order to compete with humans on a level playing field, check out some of the “better” jokes generated by Aberdeen University’s joking computer. We don’t think the world’s stand-up comedians need be too concerned about their jobs.