Mostly Harmless #3: The AI Revolution We Don't Need
Modern education is in dire need of a Revolution, but it's not going to be AI chatbots. Here's is why, and what we can do instead.
Modern education is in desperate need of transformation. We all know that. The education system, once considered modern, is no longer so.
Historically, education has focused on providing access to knowledge and information. Schools, academia, universities, and colleges were the exclusive places where knowledgeable individuals could impart wisdom to the younger generation. The prevalent method of training the new generation involved placing them physically in the presence of experienced individuals with specialized knowledge.
However, with the advent of the internet —arguably the most significant technological advancement of the past century, if not millennium— the education dynamics have changed. The availability of information ceased to be exclusive and became accessible to all. Over a few decades, we have developed a global network of freely accessible world-class educational content.
Today, we have resources such as Wikipedia, videos from the finest educators worldwide, and even complete courses with interactive materials, masterclasses, and platforms for skill-sharing. The landscape of accessing knowledge has dramatically shifted. It has become significantly easier to find answers to any questions.
This raises an important question: What is the role of education in this new era of information surplus?
This question becomes even more relevant with the advent of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots. In the next 10 years, as we enter a new era, many believe we will be able to deliver the dream of personalized education for every student, a personalized Aristotelian tutor for each of them.
Dare to imagine this future! Gone will be the days when one had to match the pace of the class or struggle to understand what the professor was conveying. Now, we will have a fully customized AI companion that adapts to our learning style, language, and individual characteristics. This companion will understand our strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, tailoring the learning process specifically to us. Imagine having a world-class professor dedicated 24/7 to your education! This is the future that educational chatbots and AI agents are predicted to bring.
Many believe this advancement will democratize education, granting all students the privilege once reserved for aristocratic individuals like Alexander the Great, who could afford the GOAT tutor Aristotle. This long-awaited educational revolution —so it is claimed— will not only revolutionize how we teach and learn but also redefine the role of educational institutions in society, perhaps making them completely irrelevant.
In today’s issue, I want us to pause and question whether this transformation is inevitable. Is it possible that despite these advancements, the role of education may remain unchanged? Could we be missing the point of education altogether? Is the role of educational institutions really replaceable with generative AI?
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Supposed uses of AI for education
Let's start by examining three proposed beneficial applications of AI in the classroom that aim to transform education. I will explain my reservations about these scenarios.
The three scenarios involve using AI as a question-answering system to supplant traditional information channels, using AI as a writing assistant to lessen students' workload, and using AI as a personalized tutor to remove the need for teachers altogether.
As you might tell already, I’m deeply skeptical about the feasibility and effectiveness of these three applications. Let me tell you why.
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