Blikstein, P., Zheng, Y., & Zhou, K. Z. (2022). Ceci n’est pas une école: Discourses of artificial intelligence in education through the lens of semiotic analytics. European Journal of Education, 57, 571–583. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12528
New ideas and technologies enable new ways of doing as well as new forms of language. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no exception. The implications of changing activity and language take on new gravity in certain fields to which AI is applied, such as education (AIEd). Terms like smart, intelligence, and learning, which had certain meanings when describing human cognition, take on new meanings in the context of computational systems, with the potential for polysemy when the human and computational meanings meet. This article unpacks what AIEd companies mean when they use these terms. Drawing on findings from a mixed-methods study, we first describe how AIEd companies used these terms on two websites. Then, using Natural Language Processing techniques, we quantitatively analyse a corpus of over 65,000 words scraped from 26 AIEd company websites. Our analyses suggest that commonly promoted narratives around student learning and 21st Century skill-building are not supported by the language on AIEd company websites, which focus instead on mass customization, efficiency, and monitoring—all tasks at which computers excel. Also, notably scarce in the corpus were extensive articulations on ethics. Given these findings we propose that although AIEd companies create powerful new technical possibilities, they must also be evaluated for the powerful ways in which they shape narratives around the use of technology in education and the behaviours and capabilities that constitute education.