AI Tools Are Our Partners, Not Threats
In a world where technology is as ubiquitous as air, how do we discern its impact on our lives? How do we separate the noise from the signal when it comes to criticisms of new technological tools, especially in education? If you've ever wondered about the future of AI in education or pondered the age-old debate of technology as a boon or bane, this article is for you. We'll traverse through the history of technology criticisms, explore the concept of "Centaur Chess" to understand the partnership between humans and AI, and finally address why these AI tools might not be the villains we make them out to be.
The Echoes of Technological Criticism
We've been down this road before.
- Telephone: "It'll kill face-to-face communication."
- Calculators: "Students will forget how to do basic math."
- Typewriter: "It will degrade the quality of writing."
- Printing Press: "Scribes will become obsolete."
- Written Word: "Our memories will decline."
The criticisms have historical roots. From Socrates lamenting the advent of the written word to educators of the 20th century worrying about calculators, the narrative surrounding new technology often starts with skepticism. While there's some truth to these concerns—the telephone era did usher in new forms of communication that reduced face-to-face interactions—each technology also brought about transformative positive changes. Let's examine this dual nature.
Centaur Chess: A Model for Human-AI Symbiosis
In 1997, a milestone event in the world of chess occurred: grandmaster Garry Kasparov lost to IBM's supercomputer, Deep Blue. What followed was not a dystopian world where AI reigned supreme but the development of Centaur Chess—a hybrid game combining human strategic thinking with AI's computational prowess.
As one grandmaster who won a Centaur Chess championship put it:
"You can do a lot of things with the computer, but you still have to play good chess."
This sentiment echoes the core theme of this article: while AI tools can augment our abilities, they cannot replace human expertise and creativity. The relationship is complementary.
Writing Aids: Raising the Floor Without Lowering the Ceiling
The saying "raising the floor does not lower the ceiling" encapsulates the essence of how AI tools like ChatGPT can serve us. In simpler terms, making writing easier for those who struggle does not inherently devalue high-quality writing. In fact, it democratizes the access to good writing skills, helping those with language barriers or communication difficulties better express their ideas.
Why This Matters
The criticisms aimed at technological advancements are often tinged with apprehension, missing the positive transformative changes these technologies can bring. In the realm of AI and education, tools like ChatGPT have the potential to democratize access to quality writing and literacy, much like how calculators made complex calculations accessible to students and how the Internet opened up a world of knowledge.
The debate surrounding technology's role in our lives is as old as history itself. While it's vital to approach new technologies with a critical mind, it's equally crucial to recognize their potential benefits. Through examples like Centaur Chess, we see that humans and AI can coexist and complement each other, enhancing our capabilities rather than diminishing them. So, as we navigate this ever-changing technological landscape, remember: we still have to play good chess.
Last week, I was invited to speak on the impact of AI on education, we discussed their worries about cheating, plagiarism, and the word du jour "Hallucinations" – the creation of false information. When another participant said that this was an "unprecedented" era, I couldn't help but think back to my own schooling as a teen.
As a student in the early 2000s, I remember my teachers cautioning us against using Wikipedia. They argued that it was an unreliable source, citing articles like "Wikipedia: The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge" (2010) and "Wisdom?: More Like Dumbness of the Crowds" (2007). However, my classmates and I soon learned how to use Wikipedia properly, by verifying information through citations, evaluating sources and reading referenced passages. The same is true for the current generation, when it comes to tools like ChatGPT.
The story with technology
Throughout history, criticisms have been voiced for every technological advancement we've ever made.
- Telephone: People were concerned it would lead to a decrease in face-to-face communication and social skills.
- Calculators: Some teachers and educators expressed worry that students would become too reliant on them and lose the knack to do mental math.
- Typewriter: Invented in the late 19th century, was seen by some as a tool for lessening the quality of writing and making people lazy.
- Printing Press: Critics thought it would make scribes and monks lazy.
- The written word itself was once seen as a threat to oral culture and memory. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Socrates famously criticized writing, saying it would lead to the decline of memory and the loss of knowledge.
If you squint a little you can see that each criticism has its truths. We may be on our phones too much. Mental math can be helpful at times. Even the written word has declined our memory, as I now see many students who focus too much taking on notes instead of learning and understanding the material.
However, with each new tool, we can learn to benefit from that same technology. We can use phones and social media to document injustices in the world. The internet have given billions of people access to the world's knowledge. Calculators and computers have enabled a generation to develop even more advanced computation technologies. For the most part, life has only gotten better.
To illustrate this point, consider the example of Centaur Chess a hybrid game that combines human players with AI algorithms and gained historical significance in 1997 when chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov lost to IBM's supercomputer, Deep Blue.
Players make plans and analyze them with computers to verify that there are no major mistakes. One of my favorite quotes from that era was from a grandmaster who won the Centaur Chess Championships
I think in general people tend to overestimate the importance of the computer in the competitions. You can do a lot of things with the computer but you still have to play good chess.
This quote emphasizes the importance of human expertise and creativity, even in fields where AI become increasingly involved. You still have to play good chess. That's true for all tools.
Similarly, when it comes to writing aids like ChatGPT, it is important to remember that they are tools that can be used to improve our writing and other work, but they cannot replace human thought and creativity. We may be tempted to believe that if technology makes it easier to write, more low-quality content will be produced. However, raising the floor does not lower the ceiling. Writing aids like ChatGPT can help people with language barriers write better, make content more accessible, and help individuals with great ideas who struggle with communicating get their ideas across.
It is undeniable that advancements in technology have always been met with criticisms and concerns, from the printing press to calculators to the internet. However, with each new tool, we have the opportunity to learn how to benefit from it. In the case of writing aids like ChatGPT, they can help lower the barrier to literacy, make content more accessible, and aid those who struggle with communicating their ideas. While access to more
information content can have its drawbacks, we should not view this as something that has never happened before. But history has shown that despite the concerns, technology has ultimately led to progress and improvement. We still have to play good chess, and with the right mindset and approach, we can use writing aids like ChatGPT to elevate our writing and communication skills.