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Rehumanizing Artificial Intelligence

The news media has been abuzz with hand-wringing reports about how ChatGPT will undermine academic integrity. 

However, the Artificial Intelligence genie is out of the bottle. AI is happening. It will scale. Its applications will extend to many aspects of daily life, including education. (Microsoft is banking on this, having just invested $10B in OpenAI, the red-hot AI lab behind ChatGPT.) 

Every minute we spend romanticizing how things used to be is time we’re not designing ways to harness change. 

We heard similar laments years ago when students started using Google Search instead of the encyclopedia; when parents began tethering their kids with mobile phones; when social media became an addictive currency. Over time, we learned to harness something positive from each – access to knowledge; safety; a generation of creators – while remaining vigilant about their dark sides. 

Even before ChatGPT, the quality of writing seems to have been deteriorating for decades, at least within the context of the workplace. Many recent graduates struggle writing a succinct, well-punctuated email let alone a compelling presentation. 

ChatGPT is not a threat to the quality of writing; what’s at stake is the quality of thinking. 

The central question isn’t how to stop students from using ChatGPT – rather, how might educators use AI to teach valuable skills? 

For example, what if an educator designed an assignment to demonstrate the most important aspect of ChatGPT – i.e., the role of the questions posed by humans:
  • Ask students to choose a subject and prompt to get an AI-written essay; 
  • Then have students slightly modify the prompt and get a second output;
  • Most importantly, have students write an argument comparing the two AI-scribed essays and how the different prompts altered the outcomes. 
Now we’re using AI to teach critical thinking; the relationship between inputs and outputs; forming better questions. 

What if an educator used ChatGPT to teach better writing skills by demonstrating the value of proper editing? 
  • Require students to use ChatGPT to get their first draft.
  • Then ask students to edit by half, requiring them to prioritize information; identify unnecessary words; learn that less is more. 
These are two small examples. Professional educators will think of better ones. 

By the way, I asked ChatGPT how an educator might use it as a teaching tool. Here is its response: 

Let’s fast-froward to ideas that harness AI to help sharpen the uniquely human skills that students, and all of us, need to succeed in life.

PS: I created the illustration for this article using DALL-E – ChatGPT’s AI graphics sibling – by inputting this prompt: "Painting of a university professor arguing with a student in the style of Johannes Vermeer."


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