On February 7, I will be participating in a panel on artificial intelligence–touching on its impact on certain sectors, how people in every field try to reign it in, and how, in the long term, living and working alongside AI will not only be possible but beneficial.
I am not an AI specialist–far from it. I address ChatGPT politely and apologize to it when I’m not entirely satisfied with its responses, which says a lot. But the intrusion of this new technology in our personal and professional lives has given me pause for thought. Schools are often expected to stay on top of and react immediately to every earthly upheaval. The discourse tends to become alarmist (what about plagiarism, cheating, the transformation of the next generation into ignorant zombies, etc.? ). It’s not the first time schools have faced technological advances, and it allows us to rethink schools’ attitude to progress.
Schools often assume a disdainful attitude toward progress–they acted for years as if television didn’t exist, they resorted to technology for basic ends, and continue to be as wary of smartphones and the internet in general as they are of communicable diseases. The pandemic demonstrated the strength of the position of schools–contrary to what was anticipated, no new educational model emerged as a result of the global lockdowns–instead everyone returned to school with the explicit intention of reducing screen time.
Those who have been experimenting with ChatGPT can testify to the extraordinary speed with which the technology has evolved in just a few months. Just thinking about what it could look like in three, five, or ten years could make you as dizzy as you used to feel as a child looking at the stars and contemplating the immeasurable size of the galaxy. At The École, we value wonder, curiosity, and imagination. We are, of course, preparing for the challenges that AI brings, but we are doing so fearlessly (in March, we have a visit from a specialist who will provide our teachers with simple and efficient strategies for leveraging AI as a tool for learning differentiation).
At The École, we dream of a school where we can use the time that AI saves us to become better human beings–more intelligent, better educated, and with a greater awareness of the world that surrounds us (I wrote here of my Deweyan optimism for a school of hope.) Last June, 60 Harvard Graduate School of Education students were asked for solutions to a thorny situation (to report a teenager for drug possession and risk recidivism or not report him and keep him in school). The education experts took an hour to offer solutions that AI mechanically spat out in seconds. AI presents us with the predictability and normalcy of our responses and reactions. It is exactly what we want to avoid at The École, where intelligence is much more than artificial and where imagination, more than ever, means power.