YJ Jang became obsessed with using AI to improve education while he was a student at Berkeley’s Haas Business School. He befriended a circle of impassioned PhD students at the university’s famed Computer Science department and began working on a set of machine-learning algorithms to improve education. Based on that work, he founded Riiid in 2014.
Ultimately, Jang’s team developed algorithms that could track student behavior, trace student knowledge, select the best content for them to study at any given time and switch gears when they were bored or frustrated and about to give up. They built an algorithm that could predict student test scores with startling accuracy, a moving number that serves as a sort of carrot: the more students follow the system’s recommendations, the higher the predicted score will climb. Jang bundled the algorithms into a mobile test-prep application in 2017 that quickly became a bestseller in Japan and Korea.
Many people have bemoaned the sudden shift to online education that the pandemic has brought; few educators were prepared to deliver quality instruction online. But Jang saw the shift as an opportunity for the education community to embrace technological solutions that otherwise would face stiff resistance from entrenched interests. Education is a fundamental building block for a healthy society. Transforming education with technology is giving impact to not just a single person or a nation, it can change the lives of billions of world citizens. Jang believes that AI-enabled teaching can empower everyone so that all learners can learn at their own pace, pursue their own goals, instead of merely becoming the average.