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AI and education


Art by Edith Croshaw

By now, if you haven't heard of AI or artificial intelligence, you've been living under a rock, or maybe just taking a good internet cleanse. I commend your restraint.


AI, such as Chat GPT, Character AI, Perplexity, Midjourney, etcetera, are essentially programs that do tasks that normally require human intelligence. A wide definition, I know, but the most accurate in relation to the scope of things AI can do. My exposure to AI is limited to the creative realm. I have seen AI write character backstories, cover songs using the voices of dead singers, create portraits, and paraphrase essays. It seems as if there is nothing it can't do.


AI has become so accessible, and so convenient, that using it is ever so tempting. I myself have been tempted to use it, out of morbid curiosity, and a need to prove that human creation is better than anything a computer could make. I can spend hours on an artwork or story, working and reworking it until I'm satisfied, and AI can just spit out something of the apparent same quality in a few seconds. All my hard work is for naught. It's not fair.


Human creativity is supposedly complicated. In actuality, it's just our brain remixing all the things we've seen and enjoyed before, and spitting it out onto a page or computer screen. I liked the way one of my favorite artists drew noses, so I started drawing noses like them. I read a really good book and loved the scene descriptions, so I've been integrating that kind of language into my writing.


This is what AI seems to be doing as well. It takes all the things in its database and spits out a technically “new” thing. This is great for things that have been thoroughly researched and established, such as summarizing Romeo and Juliet, turning a paragraph into a haiku, or visualizing what a blonde person looks like with red hair.


You could say that this delving into our memory or database is what people do as well, but people have lived experiences which influence a person's view of the world, and how they decide to process it. No one is going to interpret something the exact same way as someone else, the interpretation might be very, very similar, but it will never be exactly the same.


AI can take all the written-down experiences that exist somewhere on the internet and remix them, but it has not experienced those moments. The same person who wrote that Reddit post 5 months ago about their break up can come back and write about it in a completely different way as they gain more perspective through their lived experiences. In good writing, the author normally has a strong voice, the writing style is unique in some way, which is not something that AI in its current state can replicate.


To quote Ms. Saikaly, “AI art is disturbing because it doesn't have the personality of actual people and experiences. It's interesting, but it's also highly disturbing, because it's not real people, you know it's not real, it's weird, like a deep fake. It is missing the key ingredient of thoughts and passion.”


Talking to the teachers, there is a general consensus that it is exceedingly obvious when students have not written their own answers. AI-written answers have no voice or drive, which makes it easy to weed out those who have used it. Teachers are wary of students using AI for assignments.


Ms. Saikaly believes that AI should not be used for things that test your ability and help you learn. She wants her students to be able to formulate their own thoughts outside of a computer.


Mr. Hicks has said that it's a slippery slope. You start using AI for small things, like giving three theories for the sinking of the Titanic. But if you continue down that path, and just get the AI to do the work for you, there's the danger of plagiarism, and not having an actual take or point of view on the subject. Using it just as an outlining tool is great; using it as your own intellectual property is deceitful.


Mr. Espanta specifically has stated that he has not used AI in his teaching, but has used it to see if students have cheated. He has seen the AI programs, such as Perplexity, and Edu Aid, that LAUSD has recommended and thinks it's incredible what it does. But it is very general and does not specify the objective, or address the student's specific needs.


Unfortunately, the things taught in school are mostly things that are retold over and over, and facts. Like how thermal energy works, or how to say ¨I love apples.¨ in Spanish, what happened during the American Revolution, etc. All things that students should know, but all things that a student can easily ask AI for the answer.


Traditionally, one was taught the 3 R’s-Reading, (w)Riting, and (a)Rithmatic. The acronym for this system does not and will probably never make sense to me, but nevertheless, this was the model that schools followed, and still seem to follow-at least somewhat to this day. Which makes sense; these are things that people should know, and not knowing them will probably make their life much harder in the future. AI is capable of doing all these things in a better, faster, more comprehensive manner. Then there are students who may know these things but have disabilities, differences, and language and cultural barriers in being able to express themselves in the expected format. AI could be very helpful in leveling the playing field in a way previously thought impossible.


The education system has evolved towards teaching critical thinking skills, and the ability to express one's thoughts and ideas effectively, skills that will still be needed eons into the future. Does AI require us to rethink how we learn?


Now, let’s take a little detour to the Industrial Revolution. For a quick intro, Britannica states- “Industrial Revolution, in modern history, the process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. These technological changes introduced novel ways of working and living and fundamentally transformed society.” This transformation was not easy, nor peaceful. There were many people who didn’t take the changes standing down. They fought for their jobs, protesting against wage reductions, and even breaking into factories to destroy the machinery. These people called the Luddites were unsuccessful in their attempts to prevent the march of technology.


This march of technology has continued unabated to this day-creating two classes of workers. The blue-collar workers living under the constant threat of losing their jobs to technology, and white-collar workers, comfortable in their offices, supposedly immune to being replaced by machines. If you had learnt your RRR´s, your job was safe from technological advances. While technology was able to automate someone's hands, it would never be able to automate someone's brain, right?

Photo by Jason Mendez / Getty Images.

Capitalism will always favor efficiency: less time, more money. Take the Actors Strike happening currently, as an example. (NBC News) Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, claimed at the news conference that the studios´ proposal for AI rules exploited actors without speaking roles. “They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness, and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation.”


Jobs such as graphic design, or copywriting are at high risk. AI can now generate websites in 5 seconds. AI can write a persuasive piece on a product in the same amount of time. Sure it might be repetitive, and there will always be at least a few problems, but 30 minutes of editing and it's great. The same quality as something a human spent 5 hours on. PriceWaterhouseCooper or PWC, one of the world's biggest accounting firms, anticipates ¨-that 3% of jobs are already at risk from AI. By the mid-2030s, this proportion will jump to 30% – 44% among workers with low education.¨


That isn't even to mention the fact that it is extremely unethical to scrape data from millions of unconsenting creators for your image/text generators and not even acknowledge or compensate them. The annoying thing about the internet, due to the fact that it is so new, and therefore basically has no rules, is that these actions are completely legal. There are no repercussions, it's free real estate.


Unfortunately, this rampaging technology has reached our doorstep and has come for our jobs. We are now faced with two choices. A, become a Luddite and fight back, or B, embrace it. Though we know from history, that events such as these tend to repeat themselves, so really-we only have one choice.


Our school system recognized the challenges posed by AI. Ms. Saikaly, Mr. Espanta, and Mr. Rowe have all gone to a seminar of sorts, where the teachers were coached on how to use AI to help them write lectures, lesson plans, tests, etcetera. So we know that the district is aware of and trying to utilize AI. However, there is a lot more that can be done.


Classroom time is a limited resource. Is there a way that AI could reduce the load of teaching ¨things,¨ thereby freeing up more class time for discussions, debates, and feedback-essentially honing our critical thinking skills?


Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, thinks the technology will lead more teachers to adopt a “flipped classroom” — having students learn material outside class and practice it in class — which has the advantage of being more resistant to A.I. cheating. Other educators I spoke with said they were experimenting with turning generative A.I. into a classroom collaborator, or a way for students to practice their skills at home with the help of a personalized A.I. tutor. (New York Times)


AI is here, and it's here to stay. It would be foolish to ignore it. The education system should not be sending students into the world blind, unknowing of how it works, and unaware of how to use it to one's advantage. Instead, we should work with it to equip ourselves to thrive in this ever-evolving world. Perhaps, we should consider adding one more R to the three Rs-(a)Rtificial intelligence.

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Reda Rountree
Reda Rountree
29 sept. 2023

This article was incredibly insightful; I loved the ways you discussed pros and cons and mention the Industrial Revolution. People who work in television and film are very nervous about the increased use of A.I., with good reason. But I really liked hearing different perspectives in this piece that made me hopeful that A.I. could make positive changes in education.

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