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Khan Academy Preparing for AI's Future in Schools

The founder of an education nonprofit argues that schools should carefully think through what problems AI might solve, what role teachers have, and how to make students conversant with AI but not dependent upon it.

A woman seen in profile with her hair tied back and wearing glasses. She has one hand on her chin and is looking slightly upwards with a thoughtful expression. Overlayed over her are digital symbols like circle graphs and calendars in blue. White background.
(TNS) — Earlier this month, the learning nonprofit Khan Academy made waves when it announced it had developed a new GPT-powered tool, called Khanmigo, to help guide students in their studies (without enabling them to cheat). Khan Academy, which has over 150 million registered users, is an online tutoring service aimed at helping students through academics. Khanmigo essentially works as an AI personal tutor, guiding students through work and even conversing with them.

On an Instagram Live with Fast Company social media director Tania Rahman, Khan Academy founder Sal Khan explored the implications of AI and the potential it holds for future innovation.

Here are the top four takeaways from Khan’s conversation.


Khan has long been an advocate for what he calls an “enlightened use of technology” in education. Though it can be easy to get excited about a new technology, it’s important to first think through all of its implications, according to Khan.

“It’s natural for any of us with engineering backgrounds or technology backgrounds to get enamored with the technology, and then look for a problem to solve with that, and I think that usually does not work out so well,” Khan said on the Instagram Live. “You should always first say, ‘What are you trying to solve?’ And then don’t immediately gravitate to the fanciest way to solve it.”

When it comes to AI, then, Khan said it’s important to not look at the technology first and to instead look at the problem first, a concept that dates back to one of the earliest student-teacher pairings: Alexander the Great and Aristotle.


Khan made it clear that Khanmigo is not meant to replace the role that teachers occupy in the classroom. The AI tool acts as a sort of personal tutor, walking the student through their schoolwork without directly giving away any answers. The service is currently being piloted in schools in New Jersey, with a feature coming soon for rising high school seniors to brainstorm college essay topics.

And none of these features are designed to usurp the entire role that educators play in students’ lives, Khan said. “In this whole AI disruption of the workforce, I think the safest job might be teaching in this world — I don’t think the human job of teaching goes away,” he said. “At Khan Academy, we’ve always said that technology can do certain things to free up the teacher so the teacher can have more one-on-one conversations, leave more projects, support students, and all the ways that we know humans can and no technology can.”

While Khan acknowledged the fears surrounding AI’s ability to help kids cheat, he believes Khanmigo could actually help teachers identify students who have cheated by asking the tool itself.

“The process of creation is very hard to fake,” Khan said. “With Khanmigo, you’re actually going through the process of creation ... I think education, generally speaking, is going to have to adapt a little bit, but Khanmigo and other tools that come on the scene make the upside much higher than any potential downside.”


In a fast-moving world where AI is constantly being improved upon, Khan said it’s actually more beneficial for students to get ahead of that innovation and learn how to use the technology. “I tell every young person I meet, ‘Use these tools, and use them in creative ways,’” he said.

But it’s still important to not be completely dependent on those tools, either.

“Everyone has to elevate to be a little bit more of an editor-in-chief, a little bit more of an architect that can put the pieces together,” Khan said. “But for any young person, use the tools, which is another reason why the education system should not be saying don’t use it, because these are pretty indispensable for the future.”


Since the emergence of generative AI, multiple letters have been signed by top figures in the field asking to regulate AI before it gets ahead of itself. But Khan said he thinks it’s important to first see what AI is capable of before jumping ahead with regulation.

“I think you should regulate once you actually have seen the harms, and it’s clear that regulation is going to be the right way,” he said. “Because otherwise, you might regulate ahead of time, and that’s not actually where the problems arise, or the regulations create some form of friction that hurts innovation.”

Instead, he said it’s important to first focus on regulating things we already know have the potential to be harmful, like social media, which has been driving the teen mental health crisis.

Fast Company © 2023 Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.