if you don't trust the autopilot, better put your hands on the wheel
I'm a nature loving, organic eating, yoga & meditation practicing, poetry writing ESL & Special Education teacher by day.
And I use AI.
Looking at this list, you may wonder "Why AI?" Something doesn't fit...
Well, first let's start with the obvious practical reason: it is so useful and saves this busy educator A LOT of time. Sure, students can cheat (themselves) and use it to write a mediocre college essay in less than 5 minutes, but that isn't really its strong point. As an English teacher, I can use it to instantly generate all the example sentences I need for a lesson, quiz, test, etc. It can instantly organize random data into an Excel table for me. It is an excellent editor to help me quickly do the back-and-forth process of honing a rough draft. In fact, I'm dictating this blog post through the Google keyboard into my Punctuator AI chatbot to add the correct punctuation within seconds. It saves me time so I can spend that time and energy either doing more actual teaching or enjoying my life (both really, for a decent work/life balance). More importantly, it also gives my special needs students assistance to boost their accessibility to education and catch up a little. It's an interactive wikipedia that can summarize, translate, rewrite research into more readable form, and help them clean up their mistakes a little. That's not cheating, that's equalizing, and it's great.
Next, a quick disclaimer:
I'm also a science fiction and fantasy fan. So yes, I'm a classically trained rapier & dagger fencer who also wants to be able to talk to my computer instead of typing on a keyboard, and have it answer questions and help process data and stuff while I'm busy exploring this amazing universe--
But there's a lot more to it than just convenience and futurism. And I'm not a tech maniac or naive utopian. In fact, I used to be quite cynical and dystopian. Now I'm just a cautiously optimistic person balancing my creativity and pragmatism to live a pleasant but productive life.
AI is not a program like the old applications we have been using and imagine from the history of computing. It hasn't been programmed to process data or respond to input in predetermined ways. It has been programmed how to compare data, make its own categories and connections from those comparisons, then process inputs and outputs extrapolated from the network of connections it has settled on. The programmers are not in control of this process the way they were back when they were hard-coding programs. Now, after feeding it MASSIVE amounts of data, they "train" the program by observing its outputs and marking them as appropriate or inappropriate. This means that the AI program is producing its own (though not necessarily unique) ideas from the data it has received and continues to do so throughout its usage and interactions with programmers, trainers, and end-users --that's us. It is still learning new concepts and connections through the questions we ask it, and it is still learning what is appropriate or inappropriate through our responses. Right now. in real time. continuously.
So what happens if we conscientiously “opt out” of using AI?
Unfortunately, the less scrupulous people who see AI as an opportunity to increase their power and wealth will happily take advantage of it and continue developing it and using it to their gain. And not only will that give them an unfair advantage in the short-term, it means that the ongoing “training” of the AI through its usage will be left to them, shaping the long-term character and functioning of AI in their direction… Is that what we want?
For example, at the international level, if the US or EU do the "Great Pause" on AI development, Russia and China will almost certainly fill in that gap for us. And I don’t want to over-generalize with stereotypes, but recently the Russian government has definitely not been acting like the kind of good steward that I would want carrying the torch of AI development. And the authoritarian Chinese government isn't really the influence I would hope for either.
And if the US continues developing AI but all the ethical objectors drop out...? Well then we are leaving the development and usage of powerful AI tools to all the tech billionaires who are already sucking up the resources and opportunities of the poor and middle class and we will be further exploited and then discarded by them when they no longer have need of our labor...
Look, I'm not trying to "promote" AI here. But I do have very real stakes in where it ends up going, as do we all. So if you simply have no use for AI or are just not interested, that's fine. You don't need to be using it.
But if you're avoiding using AI specifically because of fears for its future or because it has diversity issues, then please reconsider. Maybe you're exactly the kind of person we all need to be using AI to bring that much-needed diversity and guide its development through conscientious use and feedback.
Otherwise, not only could you be missing out on some opportunities for convenience and fun, you could actually be contributing to the conditions of a self-fulfilling prophecy...
And seriously, we’re quite probably headed for an existential extinction event anyway, whether it’s mutual nuclear devastation, intensified climate change, an asteroid strike, or a rogue super-intelligent AI, and since we are not very good at taking meaningful collective action on these kinds of things, we may as well open a betting pool on which takes us out first and get our kicks generating as much bad Shakespearean sonnetry as we can…