Dr. Po-Shen Loh Combines AI, Education, and Art


On Tuesday, January 23, Roxbury Latin welcomed Dr. Po-Shen Loh, a mathematician, educator, and tech entrepreneur, to the Smith Theater to discuss the growing role of artificial intelligence in education and AI’s impact on the world.

Dr. Loh, a mathematics professor at Carnegie Mellon University since 2010, has left a significant mark on math, education, and healthcare. From winning a silver medal in the 1999 International Mathematical Olympiad and coaching top-ranked university and national math teams, to founding educational websites and developing contact-tracing apps, his influence is profound.

Addressing the rise of AI, Dr. Loh engaged with ChatGPT on stage.

“When ChatGPT first came out, I thought, ‘come on, this is not going to affect my life. Because nothing can do math.’ Because about a year ago if you asked ChatGPT ‘What’s bigger, one-third or one quarter?’ ChatGPT would say: ‘One quarter is bigger than one-third because four is bigger than three.’ If you can’t do that, you can’t take over the world.

“Well, let’s see how ChatGPT is doing with math today.”

With the help of students, Dr. Loh prompted ChatGPT with a question about integrals. And the AI went above and beyond in its answer.

Prompt: “What is the integral of sin(x) from -3 to 3?”

ChatGPT: “The integral of sin(x) from -3 to 3 is 0. This result is due to the symmetry of the sine function over the interval, as the area under the curve from -3 to 0 cancels out the area from 0 to 3.”

“And it got ‘zero,'” said Dr. Loh. “But that second sentence goes beyond what I expected I’d ever see in my lifetime… an insight that goes beyond doing a normal math problem. That’s when I realized, ‘oh man, the future is here.’ And what are we supposed to do? Because once it can start to do my job, what’s left?”

Teachers, Dr. Loh said, will remain vital even in the age of AI.

While AI can provide information, teachers play a crucial role in sparking human interest, fostering curiosity, and instilling the qualities that make us uniquely human.

“A teacher’s job is not just to dump methods into your brain,” Dr. Loh said. “If you want methods in your brain, there’s the internet, there are books. But the job of a teacher is to channel human interest. The things that I became good at were because I saw a real person who had some of those skills, and I said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like him.’ You need a human for that. Because no one’s going to say, ‘oh my gosh, when I grow up I want to be ChatGPT.'”

To address that challenge—that there are neither enough teachers nor enough mathematically literate students to meet the demands of the AI Age—Dr. Loh created a program for middle school students aiming to equip them with essential skills for an AI-driven future. The program involves high school students proficient in math partnering with professional actors (one of Carnegie Mellon’s great resources) to create an engaging and innovative learning experience. Live-streamed classes on Twitch, resembling popular online formats, make math education more accessible, particularly in under-resourced areas.

The inclusion of professional actors in each class also provides real-time feedback for the high school student-teachers, enhancing their communication skills and creating a win-win opportunity for students at all educational levels. The novel approach has proven highly effective in making math education more impactful, captivating, and accessible to a diverse range of students.

Dr. Loh’s vision extends beyond mathematics, emphasizing the development of both IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence), in all fields, for success in a world where AI is increasingly influential.

After speaking in Hall, Dr. Loh visited with RL teachers, and then Class III physics students, to discuss AI in the classroom, college, and beyond.

For a full gallery of Dr. Loh’s day at RL, visit our Flickr gallery.