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Melinda and I often get asked how to make a difference in the world. A great way is to volunteer.

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Ahead of the curve

Sal Khan is pioneering innovation in education…again

Brave New Words paints an inspiring picture of AI in the classroom.

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When GPT-4o launched last week, people across the internet (and the world) were blown away. Talking to AI has always felt a bit surreal—but OpenAI’s latest model feels like talking to a real person. You can actually speak to it, and have it talk back to you, without lags. It’s as lifelike as any AI we’ve seen so far, and the use cases are limitless. One of the first that came to my mind was how big a game-changer it will be in the classroom. Imagine every student having a personal tutor powered by this technology.

I recently read a terrific book on this topic called Brave New Words. It’s written by my friend (and podcast guest) Sal Khan, a longtime pioneer of innovation in education. Back in 2006, Sal founded Khan Academy to share the tutoring content he’d created for younger family members with a wider audience. Since then, his online educational platform has helped teach over 150 million people worldwide—including me and my kids.

Well before this recent AI boom, I considered him a visionary. When I learned he was writing this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Like I expected, Brave New Words is a masterclass.

Chapter by chapter, Sal takes readers through his predictions—some have already come true since the book was written—for AI’s many applications in education. His main argument: AI will radically improve both student outcomes and teacher experiences, and help usher in a future where everyone has access to a world-class education.

You might be skeptical, especially if you—like me—have been following the EdTech movement for a while. For decades, exciting technologies and innovations have made headlines, accompanied by similarly bold promises to revolutionize learning and teaching as we know it—only to make a marginal impact in the classroom.

But drawing on his experience creating Khanmigo, an AI-powered tutor, Sal makes a compelling case that AI-powered technologies will be different. That’s because we finally have a way to give every student the kind of personalized learning, support, and guidance that’s historically been out of reach for most kids in most classrooms. As Sal puts it, “Getting every student a dedicated on-call human tutor is cost prohibitive.” AI tutors, on the other hand, aren’t.

Picture this: You're a seventh-grade student who struggles to keep up in math. But now, you have an AI tutor like the one Sal describes by your side. As you work through a challenging set of fraction problems, it won’t just give you the answer—it breaks each problem down into digestible steps. When you get stuck, it gives you easy-to-understand explanations and a gentle nudge in the right direction. When you finally get the answer, it generates targeted practice questions that help build your understanding and confidence.

And with the help of an AI tutor, the past comes to life in remarkable ways. While learning about Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War, you can have a “conversation” with the 16th president himself. (As Sal demonstrates in the book, conversations with one of my favorite literary figures, Jay Gatsby, are also an option.)

When the time comes to write your essay, don’t worry about the dreaded blank page. Instead, your AI tutor asks you thought-starters to help brainstorm. You get feedback on your outline in seconds, with tips to improve the logic or areas where you need more research. As you draft, the tutor evaluates your writing in real-time—almost impossible without this technology—and shows where you might clarify your ideas, provide more evidence, or address a counterargument. Before you submit, it gives detailed suggestions to refine your language and sharpen your points.

Is this cheating?

It’s a complicated question, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Sal notes that bouncing ideas off friends, asking family members to critique work, and using spellcheckers and tools like Grammarly—which can rephrase entire sentences—aren’t considered cheating today by most measures. Similarly, when used right, AI doesn’t work for students but with them to move something forward that they might otherwise get stuck on. That’s why, according to Sal, a lot of educators who first banned AI from class are now encouraging students to use it.

After all, mastery of AI won’t just be nice to have in a few years—for many professions, it’ll be necessary. Employees who can use AI effectively will be far more valuable than those who can’t. By incorporating this technology into education, we're both improving students’ experiences and outcomes and preparing them for the jobs of the future—which will become more enjoyable and fulfilling with AI in the mix.

That includes teaching. With every transformative innovation, there are fears of machines taking jobs. But when it comes to education, I agree with Sal: AI tools and tutors never can and never should replace teachers. What AI can do, though, is support and empower them.

Until now, most EdTech solutions, as great as they may be, haven’t meaningfully made teachers’ lives easier. But with AI, they can have a superhuman teaching assistant to handle routine tasks like lesson planning and grading—which take up almost half of a typical teacher's day. In seconds, an AI assistant can grade spelling tests or create a lesson plan connecting the Industrial Revolution to current events. It can even monitor each student's progress and give teachers instant feedback, allowing for a new era of personalized learning.

With AI assistants handling the mundane stuff, teachers can focus on what they do best: inspiring students, building relationships, and making sure everyone feels seen and supported—especially kids who need a little extra help.

Of course, there are challenges involved in bringing AI into schools at scale, and Sal is candid about them. We need systems that protect student privacy and mitigate biases. And there’s still a lot to do so that every kid has access to the devices and connectivity they need to use AI in the first place. No technology is a silver bullet for education. But I believe AI can be a game-changer and great equalizer in the classroom, the workforce, and beyond.

I recently visited First Avenue School in Newark, New Jersey, where Khanmigo is currently being piloted. We’re still in the early days, but it was amazing to see firsthand how AI can be used in the classroom—and to speak with students and teachers who are already reaping the benefits. It felt like catching a glimpse of the future. No one understands where education is headed better than Sal Khan, and I can't recommend Brave New Words enough.