Artificial Intelligence – What is it Missing?

The Need for Humanity

Philosophers have been intrigued by artificial intelligences for centuries. Plato’s syllogisms and Descartes’ doubtings all play a part in the creation of what we see today. If we stick to the century in which we see the technology to start to create the reality of AI we have to begin with Alan Turing. There is a famous paper by Turing entitled, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” that lays out the Imitation Game, referred to in popular consciousness as the Turing Test. A computer and person are hidden from sight and the adjudicator then tries to identify which is which through the mechanism of questioning. Passing the test is not a guarantee of intelligence, but it does show the computer program as linguistically indistinguishable from a human.

We have passed this mark several times now, though the computer systems used do not actually speak language: they understand, through large language modelling, the most likely word to come next in a sequence. For example: if asked to list the colours after red in the most appropriate way, the program might say: orange, yellow, green, blue (however a snooker player might say yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black). Large language models speak via an algorithm, not understanding.

Artificial Intelligence has triumphed several times over the last 30 years: In 1997, the IBM supercomputer, “Deep Blue,” defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov; and in 2016, Google’s, “Alpha Go,” defeated Lee Sedol in ‘Go.’ However, Alpha Go still does not understand the rules of ‘Go,’ and ChatGTP does not speak English.

In November 2022, OpenAI launched ChatGPT version 3 to the public. It was the fastest growing app in history.

This has been followed by subsequent versions and we are waiting for version 5 to rear its head (possibly by the time this is published). These generative AI programs have then been copied and other versions of these large language models have been found across the Internet, as well as various other generative platforms. This, of course, was of immediate interest to educators and other professions who generate material during the course of their work. Marketers, copy writers, creatives, academics and most of all, students. Educators saw this as a way of managing the increasing workloads they are asked to take on, especially resource production, marking and administration tasks. It is an opportunity – and also a problem. While these generative models can create, they can also provide a chance for plagiarism and cheating.

Impact on Work

We are stepping into what I would call an AI and Information age. Technology is advancing exponentially. For example, by 2025 some studies say 25% of people will work remotely, other predictions say by 2027, the AI market will be worth $407 billion. But today 75% of us are terrified about misinformation from AI and 40% of businesses are concerned about technology dependence. The estimated 100,000,000 jobs on the horizon supporting this new technology don’t provide a pathway to use it effectively or in a way that supports the society we have, especially when you consider education. Education is no longer about information, it is about skills, ideas, debate. In an AI future, we will need technologists, futurists even, but more than that we will need the humanity to ensure that we direct technology and technology does not direct us.

There are a number of immediate responses to AI that we can read at the moment: how to write good prompts, how to stop children cheating in tests, how we might use the new tools to reduce workload (a workload that will soon be swallowed up with other things). These are elements we need to discuss. The longer term implications are science fiction and speculative. Artificial intelligences have been imagined and worried about for as long as we could conceive of the idea: Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke – even numerous episodes of Star Trek all postulate and predict the dire possibility of a non human intelligence of our creation going rogue.

Impact of Education

The in-between is what we are missing: the medium to long term impact on education. How can we move forward in a way that isn’t just focused on plagiarism, but avoids the apocalyptic navel gazing so beloved by the junk media?

The first stage is to accept. The AI revolution in education is here and it will only develop and expand its reach. We now have generative Artificial Intelligence engines to provide us with everything we could possibly need: a set of notes on particle physics, a map of the Roman campaign in Carthage under Scipio Africanus, an essay espousing the benefits of AI…say no more.

The problem we face is a problem we have had before. We are at a crossroads in development. Many would look to this as a renaissance, a rebirth into the technological age, but instead I would contend that this technological age is in fact the challenge and not the solution.

We can look at the actual renaissance as a comparison. Centuries ago in Italy the Pope held sway, the earth was at the center of the universe and there was belief in the divine and the world hereafter: There was faith. Under Urban II the Church launched wars in the name of holy conquest: soldiers gathering across Europe, hurling themselves across the continent with unbridled religious fervor to reclaim territory from rivals, killing those who did not believe as they did. Urban VII banned scientific development on the grounds it spoke directly against holy scripture (Galileo was put under house arrest for that one).

It seems a world away from today’s interconnected and information-rich existence, but there is a common theme. There is a single, powerful, didactic authority from which information and ideas flow: in one direction. Creativity and critical thinking were not valued outside of the production of arts and music to glorify the ideas inherent in the church.

Back in the late 1400s, this authority was contended by the philosophy of humanism: a combination of the rediscovery of the ancient world and its works and a new exploration of the natural world. The leaders are names we all know: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and so on. We had the Renaissance. A rebirth and revolution of the ideas that had run our thinking for so long. There was science, freedom of thought, a return to classical ideas of the individual, philosophy and literature became the order of the day and writers like Machiavelli started to ask interesting questions about power. The Church even embraced new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Today, the use of Artificial Intelligence has removed something human from the production of material, content, art and ideas. This algorithmic intelligence (which will become in due course an artificial intelligence) is built on the back of the repository of knowledge on the Internet. It is a search engine. However it is not human, it does not think, and we need something more if we are going to use it to the very best. We need, much like the Renaissance, the human element.

Without a human prompt our new AI friend stays silent, without a mind to read the material we are led into the same trap our forebears were stuck in until released by progressive philosophy: received information as gospel. This is the issue faced before the renaissance and a trap we must not fall into again.

The advent of AI is not a renaissance, we actually need an intellectual rebirth in order to ensure we progress and use this new technology in a way that benefits us all. We cannot simply sit back and accept what we are told by AI. We need humanism, critical thinking and creativity.

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Barry Cooper

Mr. Barry Cooper’s educational career spans 20 years, 3 continents, and 4 prestigious schools in London, Edinburgh, Shanghai and Dubai. Most recently, he shaped the academic curriculum for the newly launched Brighton College Dubai, while also finding time to create and curate a new Arts festival. Previously he championed the IB Diploma programme for History at Wellington College Shanghai, his first international move after 8 years on the leadership team at leading Scottish boarding school Loretto just outside Edinburgh. He started his career at Epsom College, as teacher of History and a residential Assistant Housemaster.