Unstoppable march of AI

  • 10th July 2023

Chris Griffiths asserts that students will grow up in an artificial intelligence world and school leaders must adapt to prepare them for it

Change is often daunting. Over the past couple of decades, technology has seemed to advance at an ever-increasing pace. Artificial intelligence is the latest, and arguably the biggest, breakthrough of these many developments.

There’s no doubt that AI will transform modern life in much the same way the internet did before it. Given these incoming changes, it’s hardly surprising that envisioning a future for current and prospective students seems harder than ever before.

While talk of AI sometimes puts us in mind of a dystopian future – with man and machine in direct opposition – the truth is, AI has huge potential to make life better. It is only those who are unable, or unwilling, to adapt who will ultimately be left behind.

That’s why equipping students with the skills needed to thrive in a new, AI-centred world will be essential to ensuring their success. Teaching students about what AI is, while also nurturing the crucial human skills which are not possessed by AI technologies, will prepare them to enter the workplaces of the future.

While the rising dominance of AI may seem like a knock to human skills, it actually serves to show just how important they really are. AI is essentially a complex set of algorithms, able to work with vast data stores to produce insights and helpful predictions, as well as being able to automate analytical and process- based work.

While this may enable AI to automate a number of jobs and tasks in the future – from customer service to medical diagnosis – it is not capable of being creative in the truest, human sense. Creativity will still be required to produce the original ideas which human civilisations have always thrived on. Plus, critical thinking and empathy will be necessary to analyse effectively the actual AI output, to ensure that it’s ethically sound and genuinely useful.

Historically, education has focused on the attainment of knowledge and its comprehension. This is no longer enough. We are already in the information age where knowledge in and of itself does not guarantee success, and the AI era will take this cultural shift one step further.

In a world where even the most dense and complicated scientific theories can be explained in simple terms by AI, and degree-level academic essays can be produced in mere moments, students must learn to engage critically with information. Not only understanding it, but producing their own ideas and insights about it, with all the emotional nuance and creative insight only a human mind can produce. While AI may be able to help in tackling our day-to-day problems, only human imagination will be able to answer the era-defining questions of our time. That’s why creativity, critical thinking and empathy must be taught as actual skills, not nice- to-have extras.

Shying away from AI helps no one. When computers started to enter the educational sphere in the nineties, information technology emerged as a subject to ensure students were equipped with the ability to use and make the most of the new computing technology. Of course, that proved to be an incredibly important step as computers continued to develop and dominate from that point onwards. It’s arguably even more crucial that we take the same approach with AI, making it a purposeful point of discussion within education.

Putting AI on the syllabus will require more than a single lesson every couple of weeks. In order to be comprehensive, it should cover a number of angles. This includes subjects relating to the literal inner workings of AI – such as data science, programming and machine learning – as well as philosophical and ethical questions about the role it might play in society.

AI is trained on data – which is ultimately knowledge produced by humans. And, as such, it sometimes replicates human biases. While we may think of AI as coldly clinical and objective, there have already been a plethora of uncomfortable examples which show it is still capable of making mistakes and even producing discriminatory information. When students are aware of the full potential of AI – both the positive and negative aspects – they’ll be enabled to engage with it from an informed, empowered perspective. Both now, and in the future.

AI will change all facets of our life, from education, to communication, to work and beyond. While there are innumerable ways AI will enhance education itself – allowing for more bespoke and personalised learning than ever before – it will also continue to develop and evolve after students complete their studies. Given that constant progress will be the order of the day in an AI-powered world, learning to learn will be a key part of preparing students for this new state of continual evolution.

Learning to learn, also means learning to love learning. Students must learn to enjoy the process. They may never be able to commit to memory the same wealth of knowledge that an AI can, but they can certainly bring a level of critical and ethical insight which would be impossible for a machine. Given the number of changes they will experience in their lifetime – and the potential for new jobs which don’t even exist today – being resilient, adaptive and quick to learn will be essential in staying abreast with the times.

Given the biases sometimes present within AI itself, learning to learn should also manifest as thinking about thinking. There’s never been a more pertinent time for metacognition, as AI surpasses humans in many analytical areas, knowing our own minds will be incredibly important in defining what is the remit of humanity, and what can be handled by machine.

Students who can identify common thinking traps will be able to engage and collaborate with AI with a self- awareness of their own limitations, and AI’s limitations also. Common thinking traps include selective thinking (the tendency to validate certain ideas and discount others), reactive thinking (jumping to react without strategy to external events or influences), and assumptive thinking (accepting a convention or idea commonly held as true just because it’s widely believed). Students who see learning as an exciting journey, rather than a destination, will be best equipped to deal with the changing tides of AI.

Last but not least, educators and institutions alike would do well to lead by example, embracing the integration of AI in the classroom. The fear of plagiarism and cheating has understandably shaken many teachers, who worry about retaining the integrity of assessment in this new age. However, resistance is ultimately futile when the changes are coming this thick and fast – and transparency is the best way to preserve trust.

By introducing AI into the classroom – through both tools and discussion – you can help to break down taboos and prepare students for what’s to come. Awareness is the best tonic for ignorance, and the educators who embrace AI will not only be able to have frank discussions about its pros and cons, they will also be able to fortify their teaching with the many benefits AI can already offer to the world of education today.

After all, it’s not just students who will encounter change. AI will change the face of education in every way. The future is one where rote tasks such as marking and assessment are managed by AI, and curriculums can be adapted in an agile way to suit different learning styles and levels automatically. These changes will not disempower educators. On the contrary, it will mean more space for the human side of teaching than ever before.

We cannot run from the future. Educators who embrace AI, open up discussion, and make space for holistic, creative learning will be the ones who give their students the best chance of flourishing in an AI world.

Chris Griffiths is a keynote speaker and founder of the AI-powered app, ayoa. He is also the author, with Caragh Medlicott, of The Creative Thinking Handbook

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