South Korea currently employs more than 30,000 imported English teachers. Now that nation of rabid English-language learners is looking to replace all those expensive meat teachers with squat robots manned from afar by Filipino teachers with fake Caucasian faces:
The bots, named EngKey, can be used as telepresence platforms to bring experienced educators from the Phillipines into the classroom via a small screen at the head of the robot. The Filipino teachers communicate using embedded microphones and speakers. These bots were developed by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and are part of a larger scale automation of English education.
The robots currently cost around 10 million won ($8,700), are one meter tall, and look weirdly like Homestar Runner—from whom it would be a terrible idea to learn English. A pilot involving 29 robots is currently underway, but South Korea is hoping to have a robot in every kindergarten classroom by 2013.
The Taiwanese manufacturing company, which makes high-profile products for companies such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard, will use the robots to do simple tasks such as spraying, welding and assembling work. Those jobs are currently done by workers, said Terry Gou, founder and chairman of the company.
He made the announcement at a workers dance party on Friday night, and we're pretty sure that was a damper on the festivities.
There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the U.S. (and another half a million in private schools) and labor costs are high. Time to look into robots. The only problem: When the machines rise up against us, will the children side with them?
UPDATE: If you haven't read Isaac Asimov's short story "Robbie," you should.