‘Bionics’ in 2024 - Glasshouse Christian College

‘Bionics’ in 2024

  • June 20, 2024

‘Bionics’ in 2024

I read a short Twitter post the other day lamenting the difference between Elon Musk’s vision of AI that does our washing and mows our lawns so we can write and paint, versus Google’s vision of AI that writes and paints and leaves us to mow our own grass. I have to say the difference the post was satirising is an important aspect of a very big discussion about how we balance the efficiency-driven models that shape society with the needs of the individuals within it.

As an English teacher, at first glance, I have the most immediate cause for concern as the production of creative and analytical content by AI that is indecipherable from human created content becomes ever more prolific. I wouldn’t teach English though, if the ‘first glance’ held much value to me. The products of the English classroom, even the ideas or knowledge about texts within them, aren’t really the point. The ability to read and think at the same time, to discover for yourself you have something to say and to be able to say it anywhere, to anyone and be understood. That is how my ‘sales pitch’ goes.

The ultimate challenge, as I see it in this context, is not in the argument about the ‘product’ of the English classroom, but in creating young people who value the skills involved in its creation and understanding the subsequent futility of surrendering this opportunity and outsourcing to AI. The internet that AI draws its knowledge from already knows more about most texts than one individual could hope to know but obtaining knowledge about a text from a source available to everyone already and extracting knowledge from the text oneself clearly illustrates the difference between the efficiency of the former versus the individual proficiency represented by the latter. The dignity of creative and analytical skill over the proliferation of the content itself. Musk over Google perhaps!

It is with this in mind that I might just suggest a re-think about our seeming headlong drive toward AI as a content creation tool in education without careful consideration of the students themselves and the distinction between the capable individual and the product of that capability. To those of my own vintage I might point to the reason they chose a highly decorated soldier and astronaut when creating the Bionic Man. (I know, it’s 2024) More recently we might think about the careful selection of Steve Roger’s ‘character’ as the criteria that qualified him to receive Howard Stark’s experimental blue ‘serum’ and become Captain America. Business Magnate Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba technology conglomerate, seems to be speaking for this understanding when he says:

“Artificial intelligence, robots, and new technologies are all very exciting, but we must be careful to not lose sight of what makes us human. We need to focus on
developing our soft skills, such as creativity, empathy, and teamwork, because machines can never replicate these qualities.”

Jack Ma

If AI is to become a superpower, bionics for 2024, that experimental blue serum that created ‘Cap’, then is our role to add it to students as early as we can, or develop the kind of human beings capable of wielding this superpower with the requisite responsibility? I heard it claimed in a discussion the other day that within a decade we may only have to ask AI a question to solve the problems of the future. My personal thought is that the quality of those questions will determine the quality of our future and that gives me great encouragement as an English teacher. Provided we can still see the value of the dignified, proficient, and empathetic individual in our education and aim for Steve Rogers before we reach for the serum, my own subject is ready and waiting. We just love good questions!

Rob Maguire, Head of English

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