Long ago, we read a novel whose story took place in the far future where nearly every job had been automated through artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics. Machines manufactured and fixed every part and piece that sustained the worlds within the galaxy.
Then the machines started to break down. No one knew how to fix them or do the jobs they had performed. At the time, it seemed so far into the future. Now, we sit at the doorstep of what could become a reality.
It was just over a year ago that ChatGPT was released. Called a “large language model,” it consumes everything ever written. With a few prompts, it can write in any style, at any grade level, in any language, with great detail, or give a simple summary. It can write poetry or describe Einstein’s theory of relatively. It could write about his theory in poetic form. Once your query is sent, the finished product is returned in seconds.
Now dozens more such programs have been released as billions of dollars pour into their development. What was launched yesterday will be outdated tomorrow as the pace of advancement accelerates.
Already, its capabilities are making people in many jobs nervous about their futures. Basic financial and legal work could be done by AI programs. It is being used to write sports and news stories. Financial market research, investment decisions, education, graphic design, and cartoonists are all professions that could be replaced. AI could be better at reading an X-ray or blood sample.
Advancement in AI technology isn’t all coming from programmers. Some AI programs are writing themselves, making updates programmers don’t understand. Machine learning is taking over.
What we find frightening from all the advancements in artificial intelligence is what their evolution means for human learning.
While there is considerable focus on and worry about the ability of ChatGPT, Bard, and other such programs to plagiarize the works as others, a more fundamental worry is about what they can do to a child’s ability to learn the building blocks of knowledge.
“Until a child is literate, can read and comprehend what they are reading, write clearly and convincingly, and compute through basic algebra using only their own brainpower, do not introduce artificial intelligence into the elementary classroom,” Mindy Bingham, a developer of nationally acclaimed textbooks and children’s books, told Academic Innovations in an interview.
“Problem-solving, critical, creative, and strategic thinking are essential skills required by employers in any field,” she says. “Writing papers and solving complex word problems are just some examples of how students develop these skills. Yet the use of the chatbots makes this effort no longer necessary.”
Bingham urges schools to ban AI program use in elementary grades.
As we learn, we grow and evolve. Information percolates in our minds. When we think about how to do a job better, or write a column, two seemingly unrelated bits of information can come together creating new insight.
Knowledge we’ve gained through past study and work are the nursery of innovation and intuition. First, however, we have to learn why something doesn’t work as good as it could, then think about how it could be better. If we don’t have that ground-level understanding, we don’t have a base from which to innovate.
“Imagine what your life would be like if a machine does this for you, and you never get the opportunity to stretch your thinking and apply basic knowledge to common problems,” Bingham cautions. “What would society be like if within one generation we don’t have people with the experience to solve the problems we face.”
Using AI to do your thinking is like lifting weights by watching a video. It’s like taking your walk on a virtual reality headset while sitting on your couch.
Those ‘ah-ha’ moments when two unrelated pieces of information come together providing a deeper understanding of the challenges in our lives or an artistic endeavor we are pursuing have their origin in past learning and experience. Do we short-circuit that process when we rely on an AI program for our thinking process?
“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, “It is yet more difficult than you thought,” author and poet Wendell Berry writes. The muse of realization may serve “us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
There are passages in a book that deeply move your emotions, challenge our thinking, or bring humor into our life, but a quote snatched from it by an AI program without the story’s context loses its deeper meaning.
With AI’s assistance, people will have two personalities, one created online through AI programs polishing their words and thoughts and the one people sit down with and get to know. Will they be disappointed with the real-life person? A person has the appearance of knowledge and creativity, but it is an illusion.
Does it matter to your employer if you use AI to accomplish a task? It might not. In fact, you might do a better job aided by an AI program. Of course, eventually, does your employer need you?
To have flashes of creativity and insight requires building a storehouse of information gathered through reading, researching, studying, and having conversations. It’s not nurtured by snippets collected without effort by an AI program.
If our stream is never impeded, if AI navigates all the obstacles for us, what have we learned, and how do we grow?