May 10

AI - the great debate

For many of us, the rapid rise of AI is another Marmite dichotomy: it will either terrify or excite us, possibly depending on our personal level of technophobia. However, given the lightning speed of the advances of AI, there is much we need to be alert to. For educationalists, AI possess the most fundamental of challenges: what is the education of humans even for when AI can do the thinking, the working out, and the creating for us? 

My initial thoughts (way back in the early days a couple of months ago) were that education will still need to help people to focus on the skills that humans excel in but that are harder for AI to replicate. To check whether this was still the case, I asked a chatbot to write an amusing article about why it’s hard for AI to seem human. 

The output was fascinating and informative, but it was also dull (the chatbot certainly failed on the ‘amusing’ part of the brief). I did not feel the same way I feel when I’m reading the thoughts of a fellow human: sometimes agreeing, sometimes passionately disagreeing, but in either case feeling that I am connecting with a shared experience of the world. 

As the chatbot told me: “despite the impressive advances in AI in recent years, there is still a gap between how humans and AI communicate and interact”. 

It also told me that when an AI response “reaches a level of realism that is close but not quite identical to a real human, it triggers a sense of eeriness and discomfort in humans. This is because humans are very sensitive to subtle cues and discrepancies that indicate that something is not quite right or natural. 

“As AI becomes more ubiquitous and powerful in our society and daily lives, it is important to consider how humans and AI can coexist and cooperate in harmony. This requires not only improving the technical capabilities of AI systems, but also understanding the social and emotional needs and expectations of humans who interact with them.” 

So although AI systems can help in research and preparation for essays and articles, it is increasingly important for learners to understand the intricacies of what it means to be human. Leaning Humanities subjects, Psychology and the Arts are now even more important than ever. 

Developers are getting better all the time and developing AI systems which seem more empathetic to the human experience, and an understanding of Psychology is feeding this. Personally, I will always feel uneasy looking at AI-generated artistic images or listening to AI-generated music. Not because the products are of poor quality in themselves, but because by reading and listening, I want to commune with fellow humans who share my experience of being alive. I would always prefer to listen to a far-from-perfect performance by amateur musicians than a perfectly polished piece performed by a robot. And I would rather read a revolutionary rant by someone with whom I disagree than a robot’s perfect prose. 

So, my advice to students who are tempted to take the easy road of asking AI to do their homework is: maybe experiment with a chatbot in the research phase but do write the piece of work yourself. Prove you’re human, rather than trying to prove you’re perfect. After all, the world is going to need and want you: your thoughts and feelings and your messy, imperfect humanity. Do the thing that robots (or other humans) cannot do: be wholly and happily yourself. 

Extracts in quotation marks were provided by Chat-GPT4 embedded in Microsoft Bing. Sections not contained in quotation marks were written by the author (a human being). 

Written by Mr Henderson, Senior Deputy Head (Academic)

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