Perhaps one of the most controversial topics I have ever been called upon to examine is that of the thinking machine. The dominant fear amongst skeptics is one of an artificial takeover via physical altercations, of technology over man. The imagery of science fiction may flood our minds; graphic depictions such as those featured in the popular Terminator film franchise, in which a dystopian future was brought about by our dependence on an entity of our own creation. Look no further fellow educators, for the future is dawning upon us. Whether we realize it or not, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already paved the way to restructuring our lives and the course of events that will follow. No, we are not referring to the potential physical dominance by AI, but rather our compliant cognitive subjugation to it.
The great Mathematician and Computer Scientist, Alan Turing had foreseen such an outcome, only to be ridiculed and persecuted for his revolutionary beliefs. “I believe that at the end of the century, the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking, without expecting to be contradicted,” he said in 1947. His words echo the predicament we now find ourselves in as an increasing number of users, both learners and educators, have come to solely rely on this ‘convenience’.
Text by: Katherine Reilly
As regards the convenience I’m referring to, look no further than the infamous AI chatbot which has gained a loyal, albeit dependent following. This new innovation came to my attention a few weeks ago, when an esteemed colleague presented me with a written literature abstract for me to examine. After making the false assumption it was a work of his own making, I was then informed of its origin and the perpetrator responsible – Artificial Intelligence. Despite a few errors which would need no more than a few minutes to rectify, the outcome itself was most impressive. The structure was indeed based upon accepted standards, an impressive lexical range comparable to the one I myself endorse the use of, and most shocking of all, occasional informal verbal patterns which are most relevant to the ones used in society today. Why is this shocking you might ask? The ability to come to speed with neologisms and successfully integrate them into our own language, before we ourselves have, is frightening in itself.
Let’s take a step back though and examine our current predicament, shall we? After conducting some research, I have noticed the following. ‘New’ writers are making their debut at increasingly alarming rates. People in our field who have never before attempted such a feat are now posting pages upon pages of content. New columnists are proudly displaying their articles on all platforms receiving rave reviews from their readers. In one case in particular, a friend and associate from a different field was honest about it and admitted his articles were produced by an AI chatbot. What struck me as odd, was his indifference and lack of concern that the texts he posted were presented as his own work, although they were clearly not. He was being commended for his intellectual prowess; a highly intuitive pioneer of his trade.
What of one’s own integrity? To what ends would someone claim such a composition as their own? Must not the source be acknowledged and credit be given where credit is due? His actions though, regardless of ulterior motive, did promote information to a wider audience, proving itself to be a catalyst in educating and informing his audience. Could we view the AI chatbot as an encyclopedia, a vault of knowledge so to speak? Should it be disregarded? It is ‘sacrilege’ to dismiss any form of information. Humanity’s evolution is based on and intricately intertwined with pertaining any form of written or oral inceptions of life. So, what’s all the fuss about? The verdict is in! A new tool has proven its worth in the promotion of knowledge. To put it bluntly, the end justifies the means and we should accept our current situation as the norm, shouldn’t we?
Dismissing the potential of the AI chatbot would be counterproductive. Studies show that tension experienced by neurodiverse people has drastically diminished when relying on AI for support. Composing an elaborate email at work while at the same time juggling with multiple tasks is admittedly taxing, rendering any form of assistance a blessing. Employees who have resorted to the use of AI for such assignments can focus on other obligations that require their attention. Productivity can reach new heights and most importantly, the workforce can relish the few precious moments they have gained, focusing on their own well-being in any way they see fit. As with all tools, AI can be used to great benefit, however, that is not usually the case.
Let’s examine things from another perspective. The internet has been flooded by educators voicing complaints of having their students hand in assignments produced by the AI chatbot. Immediate action has been demanded to limit access to such devices as not only students, but the entire populous is gradually giving in to the allure of such amenities. “Why spend five hours conducting research and stressing over it, when I could be clearly doing something else in the limited time I have at my disposal?” a student may ask. Simply put, my young impetuous friend… you’re not practicing the language, nor are you exercising your mind. Have we completely disregarded the element of critical thinking? Have we fallen victim to our own intellectual achievements, only to capitulate and fade away? In my humble opinion, as an advocate of 21st-century skills and the integration of transversal competencies in the learning mechanism, our reliance on such provisions will, for a lack of a kinder term, render us indolent. As for honing one's productive skills to perfection? It seems that has become a thing of the past. After extensive investigation, researchers have noticed an alarming trend towards sharing information rather than producing it.
Upon the urging of my students, I decided to examine the AI chatbot myself and witness the potential as well as dangers of such an application. I was curious as to how the AI could write a simple article. In the capacity of pet owner, I foster a deep love for my canary. I typed a simple request, ‘Write an article about taking care of a canary’. One click, and within seconds the article was produced. To my surprise, the article was almost flawless. ‘Almost’, as specific linguistic patterns needed some polishing, but would mostly go unnoticed to an inexperienced eye. I quickly put the AI to the test and requested a regenerated response. Sure enough, the outcome didn’t disappoint, considering it was restructured in such a way that the new response had nothing in common with the previous one; both admirable in their own rights. I then furthered my research and put AI to the test. What better query than that concerning the field I have established my expertise on? ‘What is Transversal Competency?’ The output surprised me as not only the original, but also the multiple regenerated responses, all reflected the essence of what I considered an adequate response. The AI had passed the test and all evidence shows it's here to stay. What about the million-dollar question? The one we’ve been alluding to since reading the title of this article? What is to become of authors and producing original work?
I momentarily pause to check the time. It took me about an hour or so to produce this article. Of course, I could have gone for a walk, or read a book. Maybe even socialized a bit. Instead, I stayed home and decided to work. By no means will I disrespect those who use AI for their work. It has proven invaluable in various social and professional structures, easing off tension, relieving stress and increasing productivity. Just bear in mind, no pun intended, that our intellectual capacity needs to be harnessed and practiced in such a way as to reach our true potential. When used in moderation for everyday tasks or research, the potential AI exhibits is limitless. Nonetheless, the actions of our contemporaries clearly imply this is not the case, as we must all prepare for the upcoming storm which will hinder our own progress, rendering any new innovations in our field a thing of the past.