Is it that time already? We’ve been hearing naysayers tell us that the advent of AI is going to sound the death knell for educators, and that we should start exploring other careers. Ten years ago, even as one of the believers of the potential role of technology in disrupting education, I used to roll my eyes at the idea of humans being replaced by bots. The latest version of GPT3, which has the entire tech world buzzing with excitement, seems to be inching closer to that (now no longer distant) reality.
In case you’re late to the game, here’s a quick recap:
OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company initially funded by Elon Musk and Sam Altman, has been working on a new technology for the last few years that can potentially disrupt thousands (maybe millions) of professionals, forcing them to rethink their careers, as AI starts taking over their jobs.
What is this technology?
GPT3, or Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, is an AI language model, which is trained to generate any type of human language text on the basis of an input. Here’s how GPT3 itself defines the technology:
“Generative AI refers to a type of artificial intelligence that is capable of generating new content, such as text, images, or audio, based on a set of inputs. This is typically achieved using advanced machine learning algorithms, such as deep learning or neural networks.”
The first time I took notice of it was when The Guardian experimented with GPT3. Since then, the technology has evolved quite a bit with great advances in products trained on the GPT3 model, which can answer questions, generate images, compose music…and apparently even write code!
You’re probably thinking that the output is a lot of gibberish. Yes, it often is…but not always, and increasingly less often. I’ve played with it and created text content, as well as images which I have used professionally. So you can imagine the quality of the output. But you don’t have to go by my experience alone. Well-known journalists and content writers have experimented with products based on GPT3 and been astounded by the quality of the output. From essays, to poetry, GPT3 has impressed almost everyone with its abilities to generate content.
So here’s a technology that can potentially replace humans in jobs like teaching, writing, designing…the list goes on. The most recent version of GPT3, ChatGPT, interacts in a conversational way, and has become rather good at responding to user prompts. 5 days after its release Sam Altman tweeted that 1 million people had already tried using it. That’s 1 million people training AI, making t more powerful with each passing day.
What does all this mean for the future of education, and in particular the future of educators?
The first thing that comes to mind when you’re talking about technology like this hitting the open market is the futility of written assignments, and academic dishonesty. Whether it’s a free version, or a paid one, students will turn to AI to help them with homework. Cheating in assignments will abound, and plagiarism will take on a whole new meaning. Teachers will find themselves in the tough spot of rethinking assignments. But then, as a language teacher I have already faced this in the form of Google Translation. The lazier students did “cheat” but not those who really wanted to learn. Will that basic human behaviour change because of the greater powers and application of GPT3?
Then, there are the terribly murky waters of ethics, beyond the simple matter of cheating & plagiarism. Human bias is bound to filter down to AI, and if students learn from and believe in the outputs given by AI, it could lead to much greater worries than cheating. Fake news, useless research and inaccurate data are other worries.
On the other hand, perhaps we have finally found a way to democratize education? If AI can be trained to answer students’ questions, tuition costs will go down, making it easier for more people to access learning opportunities. Technology has always unlocked unexpected human potential, and GPT3 definitely has the potential to open up new ways of learning through serendipitous discovery, leading to deeper ideation and research.
But will this technology replace teachers?
OpenAI doesn’t think so!
Neither do I. But it will change the way teachers create content…and perhaps even open new avenues for teachers to reach a wider audience. The content is already available to everyone…in libraries, research portals, Wikipedia. Anyone who really wants to access the knowledge, can. Teachers are the agents who have the job of choosing the most pertinent information and sharing it with students. So if technology could take care of the grunt work of content creation, teachers would be able to focus on the editorial tasks, and make the content much more learner-friendly and impactful. Interactions between teachers and students could also improve and become more meaningful, if teachers weren’t bogged down with the tedious task of preparing lessons with content. The possibilities of enriching existing curriculum that is not only outdated, but also out of sync with the expectations and learning behaviour of GenZ are immense, and it would be a shame to ignore this opportunity.
So is it time to say “Goodbye teacher, hello GPT3?”
No, not yet.
I believe this is the dawn of a whole new era for education, where human intelligence and artificial intelligence will come together to carve out an exciting new space for the learners of the future.
P.S If you’re curious about this and want to learn more (without wading through hundreds of very long and complicated articles on the subject), Adaptiv has a whole series of micro-lessons on Generative AI and the impact of AI on the future of work.