Mankind’s modern trajectory has been defined by several inflection points. The invention of electricity, light bulb, the telegraph system, computer and the Internet, among others, signalled new irreversible milestones in our modus vivendi. The recent introduction of ChatGPT may, however, prove to be more than an inflection point. It may be a permanent disruptor to our way of life; its bloopers and Wokist tantrums notwithstanding.
ChatGPT is now the fastest-growing consumer app in history. Within two months of its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT managed to garner more than 100 million users. Its developer OpenAI, which began with 375 employees and thin revenue, is now valued at $30 billion and counting.
How does it work? Broadly speaking, ChatGPT aggregates data from online sources and synthesise answers to a query within seconds. It is currently the most versatile of a stable of new artificial intelligence-powered large language models. It can compose musical notes, write software codes, solve mathematical equations, write novels, essays and dissertations, among a host of other tasks. It can be used by scientists to translate their original works – written in a native language – into English. As AI tools like ChatGPT evolve, they may supplant human activity across a wide, yet incalculable, spectrum. Hundreds of millions of jobs may be at stake.
Its most immediate impact however will be in the area of human learning and decision-making.
Human learning is a lifelong process shaped by myriad factors. These include (but are not limited to) experience, instinct, interactions, mistakes (and corrections), introspection, personal angst, boldness, tutelage, textual data and individual psyche. Most of these prerequisites are alien to ChatGPT and this includes the “no pain no gain” axiom for human learning and development.
AI tools are also unaffected by human limitations such as time constraints, fatigue, “off days” and ailments. Over time, these limitations have prodded humans to delegate their existential requirement to think and learn to machines. Inexorable digitization has also made us adept at knowing where or how to seek information instead of learning how to retain that same information. How many of us memorize the phone numbers of our family, co-workers and friends these days? A digital crutch is now a must-have for navigating roads (e.g. Waze, Google Maps), cooking (video channels), mending appliances (DIY channels) and a host of other mundane activities. Our daily tasks are rapidly becoming more mechanistic, crowding out our ability to create something new or game-changing. We are becoming extensions of our machines instead of vice versa. As a result, mankind is now facing an era of collective stupor and conformity.
There is no better way to gauge how AI tools may affect our faculties of thinking and learning than by observing ChatGPT’s impact on the global education sector. Students and educators alike are now using ChatGPT as an educational supplement, a cheat tool, or as a digital crutch.
A recent survey by the Walton Family Foundation and Impact Research found that most teachers (51%), and many students, are already using ChatGPT in schools. Another survey involving 1,000 US colleges found that 30% of students used ChatGPT for written assignments, with 60% of them using it on “more than half of their assignments.” ChatGPT has passed many high-level exams, including the Wharton MBA exam, US medical licensing exam, several law exams and a final at Stanford Medical School.
Paper mills may also use ChatGPT to fabricate scientific articles and reports. Researchers who use such contrived data, or who deliberately falsify the research process through generative AI, may end up promoting policies and products that are detrimental to society. The world cannot afford another coronapyschosis!
All in all, students and teachers alike are increasingly intimidated by the Almighty AI. AI raises the bar for students, professors and a variety of professionals. Sorting out genuine artefacts is also becoming increasingly difficult.