ChatGPT both awed and alarmed the computer savvy and the computer-phobic public when the encyclopedic chatbot debuted in November. Teachers worried about cheating, and parents feared the unknown.

The artificial intelligence software, which analyzes mammoth amounts of information from the internet, spits out impressive essays and logical answers to seemingly any question — even, on occasion, with undue confidence, as it miscalculated a math problem or made up an answer.

Sal Khan, founder and chief executive of the Mountain View-based nonprofit global classroom Khan Academy, envisions artificial intelligence as a powerful tool for learning and teaching. On the same day last week that the research lab OpenAI released GPT-4, which is an even more advanced version of ChatGPT, Khan introduced Khanmigo. It’s an application of GPT-4 that will be integrated into Khan Academy’s lessons and videos.

The timing wasn’t coincidental. Khan had been working for six months with OpenAI on the application, getting a sense of GPT-4’s possibilities, he said.

“We view it as our responsibility to start deeply working with artificial intelligence, but threading the needle so that we can maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks,” he said. “We think artificial intelligence needs to be a tool for real learning and not for cheating.”

Khan Academy offers free personalized learning where students can work at their own pace, a comprehensive set of pre-K through early college courses and programs on life skills. Its videos and prompts guide students through content that’s available in 50 languages. Tens of millions of students have used Khan Academy.

Khan said Khanmigo will act like a “virtual Socrates,” asking questions and coaxing answers, not giving them, suggesting how to create students’ essays, not writing them — just as a good tutor would, he said.

Studies point to “high-dosage tutoring” — face-to-face, in school, several times each week with the same tutor — as the most effective form of tutoring. But those tutors are hard to find and often expensive. Instead, many districts are relying on tutoring in after-school programs and through companies that offer tutoring by text or phone, more like homework help.

Khanmigo will work in real time in the classroom with students who are struggling, Khan said. Teachers who integrate Khan Academy will have a record of  Khanmigo’s “conversations” with individual students and monitor their progress, Khan said.  Parents will have full access to what students are working on at home, too.

Khanmigo will engage and captivate students in ways that haven’t been possible until developments in artificial intelligence in the last few years, Khan said. What’s available already hints at the potential, he said. Students can have conversations with presidents they’re studying in history class. Khanmigo will take the other side in debate exercises.

Over time, there will be a lot to offer teachers, from correcting papers to creating handouts and prompts for discussions. Khan Academy has been consulting with experienced teachers and content experts on an activity to develop lesson plans, “and it’s quite good,” Khan said.

The assistance will save teachers time so that they can spend more of the day focusing on their students.

To be clear, he said in announcing Khanmigo, this will be a “learning journey,” and “there is a long way to go. AI makes mistakes. Even the newest generation of AI can still make errors in math.”

That is why Khanmigo is rolling out slowly, as Khan and his team troubleshoot and build safeguards into the system, defining areas that are inappropriate and off-limits.

The first users have been a select group of students, teachers and funders. Soon Khanmigo will be open to the 500 school districts nationwide that have partnered with Khan Academy. In California, they include Atwater Elementary School District, Long Beach Unified and Compton Unified.

Khan is inviting individuals to join a waiting list and will let in several thousand in the coming weeks. Khan is charging them $20 per month to cover development expenses and OpenAI’s fees. The cost should come down substantially in coming months, and there’ll be no charge for low-income schools, he said.

Compton Superintendent Darin Brawley said Friday that high school grades hadn’t used Khan Academy since the start of the pandemic but the district is interested in learning more about its use of artificial intelligence in the classroom.

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