AI bots & Higher Education

This is a post I am writing to help clarify some issues related to AI, machine learning and especially the ChatGPT algorithms that are being currently deployed. Such programming is impressive from the point of view of results: the generation of intelligible and (often) sound full text including common and not so common knowledge and multi language capacity, make of ChatGPT a wonderful and unbelievably helpful tool. At the same time this has caused a lot of rumor first regarding the capacity of being conscious, and also, in academia, for its effects on students and faculty. I will not deal here with the consciousness of such a program because it has already been established that conscious it is not.

All neural nets provoke some sort of intelligence, or better said smartness. Such programs exhibit a real-life level of smartness and knowledge about all sorts of disciplines, in all cases where they are trained accordingly and purposefully. However, as it has been written abundantly, they are nothing else that a sort of “idiot savants”, or bullshitters who speak without a clue of what they are saying. Which is extraordinarily similar to what we humans often do, and certainly students do when composing essays or other academic work. That brings me to a curious question: isn’t the case that intelligence is overrated? I mean, that the fact of being aware of one own’s utterances and their meaning, is but a narrative, something that I build bit by bit every day? But that we leave to better philosophers.

Instead, I will talk here about the impact of such family of programs in academia. I am especially worried because the emphasis has recently been one of fear. Instead of welcoming such tools for what they are, useful tools for both students and teachers and researchers alike, some in academia have been fearful that they may help students plagiarize and create texts that are not of their doing. This is once again our pushing a wildly open question into a limited and stereotyped dimension.

So we have been recently talking about how to limit the dangers that such tools create in academia. However, in academia we ought to be flipping the coin and notice that such tools may be useful and not opposites to the academic discourse. In fact, consider the case where one student together with her professor want to generate a plan for a course. That is a fascinating exercise. Together they may see whether errors were generated by the bot and review the bot’s output. Moreover, both could see where fake information may have been introduced. At the same time, the instructor could use some of the bot’s information as many have found useful. I think this very example shows that tools like these may be really very helpful for teachers and students alike. The dangers of copying or of generating homework with low quality or even plagiarized already exist with text and images and have always happened in school and universities. Of course the Internet’s encyclopedias have generated an explosion of such problems whereby faculty are not able to understand or filter works created by the mind of the students versus works not created by them. Again, if we flip the coin we see that a student can have an excellent exercise by checking facts on encyclopedias! Moreover-at least with Wikipedia- the student can suggest edits and enhancements to one article. Or create a new one—perhaps aided by ChatGPT. I’m not going to deal with grading here because grades are, in the case of a student plagiarizing, essentially another problem common to all forms of evaluation: in fact many are proposing to do without grades, at least in the evaluation of plagiarism-susceptible work. The movement called ungrading is an example of that.

But let’s go back to that theme at hand here. I just want to make sure that we are going to have a saying and that a sound and rational debate without interference from fears or irrational situations may be had widely in academia. I believe, from a moral standpoint, that censorship, policing and the forbidding of tools must not exist in academia. Hence, once again our community must find a way to understand, integrate, and operationalize such tools. Let’s not forget that this is but a preview of what it is to come and we are called–together with our students–to give the shape we want to such a future.

OpenAi’s CEO Sam Altman recently said:

I understand why educators feel this way. There are ways we can help you detect if something is ChatGPT. But I don’t think institutions should rely on that. It’s impossible to make it perfect: people will know how much text to change [to avoid a detector]. We are in a new world. Generated text is something to live with. We will all have to adapt. And it’s OK. We have adapted to calculators. This is a more extreme version but the benefits will also be more extreme. We hear from teachers who are understandably very nervous about the impact of this on homework. Though others see it as an amazing personal tutor for each student. I have used it to learn things. There are things I’d rather learn with ChatGPT than from a textbook. We will adapt, we will be better and we will not want to go back. [Translated first into Spanish by El País, and translated into English by Google Translate.]

Finally, I have compiled a list of popular press references that surely help to understand this phenomenon (in EN & ES).

Vídeo | ChatGPT: La inteligencia artificial que inventa cuentos e imágenes imposibles (El País)

Lo bueno y lo preocupante de ChatGPT, la herramienta de inteligencia artificial accesible a todos (ENDI)

ChatGPT: la inteligencia artificial que no reemplazará a los humanos (El País)

ChatGPT: no todo lo que rima es verdadero (El País)

What are We Doing About AI Essays? (Faculty Focus)

Teaching Experts Are Worried About ChatGPT, but Not for the Reasons You Think (Chronicle – paywall, but open with Sagrado email)

Teaching: Will ChatGPT Change the Way You Teach? (Chronicle – paywall, but open with Sagrado email)

Why Banning ChatGPT in Class Is a Mistake (Campus Technology)

How Smart Are the Robots Getting? (NY Times)
The Turing test used to be the gold standard for proving machine intelligence. This generation of bots is racing past it.

Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach (NY Times)
With the rise of the popular new chatbot ChatGPT, colleges are restructuring some courses and taking preventive measures.

A.I. Is Not Sentient. Why Do People Say It Is? (NY Times)
Robots can’t think or feel, despite what the researchers who build them want to believe.

[Featured image: “MIT Museum: Kismet the AI robot smiles at you” by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.]

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Zen of Teaching: Interview with Stephen Downes

IN November 2022 I had an opportunity to interview Stephen Downes at Online Educa Berlin, where I was participating.

He was so kind to accept the interview and we soon found ourselves in the foyer of a stylish bar on the upper floor of the hotel, where I arranged my usually low-key equipment (my phone) and set to shoot in front of a magnificent Berliner view.

Before getting to the details of the interview I have to say it is being published quite some time after, given that on my way back home I was reached by sad news and a family loss, of which I’ll write later.

So, at the almost beginning of the new year, I want to say I’m sorry to Stephen for waiting so long without notice. Anyhow, it was an interesting and candid interview—and quite pleasant.

As widely known, Downes is a Canadian researcher in educational tech and pedagogy. He created with George Siemens the first MOOC (in 2008) and the very idea thereof.
(See The Rise of MOOCs Apr 23, 2012)

CCK08 First MOOC

CCK08 First MOOC

I was lucky enough to participate in said MOOC on Connectivist learning and it was an extraordinary experience which inspired me ever since in my teaching activity and tech use.

Stephen can be read at his blog Half An Hour  and his Oldaily “news and commentary about learning technology, new media, and related topic”.

So, it is in this spirit that I approached him one afternoon in Berlin, 24th November 2022. Here is the unabridged interview.

Note that there is some workers’ sound in the background: They were preparing the bar… the noise is fastidious but at that point was unavoidable and is perfectly in synch with the amateurish approach of these interviews in the #zenofteaching cycle.

We talked about AI, the metaverse vs the open Web, blockchain etc. In the case of robots vs student assistants I reckon I did not follow up with an observation: it is in interest of universities and students to have them practice as much as possible during their tenure. This would mean, in my opinion, that it would be always better to count on them as assistants than (cheaper, for sure) machines. Also, I’m not that convinced of his take on symbolic AI, but that’s on another post.

Here is the interview, then!

[Featured image: “Stephen Downes-3” by Stephen Downes is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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Women on fire

I’m writing this on 8 March 2022. Women’s day.
I was surprised by the response from my students, who couldn’t be more detached from this date. Some from the feminine aisle said this was to be after all a day like all. I can’t avoid being a little cynical here. When I was their age (that’s a perilous route) I was on the streets with them all.
Then listen to Because the Night and ask, why am I embedding this song here? But because it’s a matter of words. It’s what happens Under Your Command, as Patti Smith sings. Why she was under somebody’s command, I asked the adolescent myself a lot of years ago. Why? That’s the statement, it’s when I want, stupid, she replied.

Women’s day is perhaps transfixed as another Valentine, stripped of all its potency. Conferences on “Women’s role in the Fight against COVID”. No please, that’s not it. Nor is it to be “Commemorating the International Women’s Day”. Words: You don’t want to commemorate this day, as if it were dead. You want to party, sing, dance, march and ask why you still need to do it.
So, here is the GIF.
Women on Fire, a Gif from the Film

Women on Fire, a Gif from the Film

Then I close. Dream, and be powerful. Hope you’ll be always on fire.

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Chance GIF’s and some learning

Now that the semester is coming to an end I have the chance to share a little more, and not like the presentation done in August, and posted only now soon, the poor sitting for all this time in the Drafts sections of the Skate.

This is a short list of some chance encounters of the kind I really enjoy. They are by-products of some search around cinema, Tarantino and his love for Sergio Leone.

First I found this gem.

You’re all going to die. From Inglorious basterds. Isn’t it gorgeous that she appears in a film in a movie theater, only to tell her doom message to the very audience? It reminds Buñuel’s surreal shooter from the roof, who shoots at random people on the street. Only difference is she is predicating a vengeance, here. She is the wonderful Mélanie Laurent.

I rest my case. But, here’s another gem from Léon, the professional of Luc Besson, another cinephile I love (at least in his first attempts). I found this GIF while researching images of spectators watching movies in cinemas. He is Jean Reno, but let’s not forget the very young Natalie Portman nor the mythical Gary Oldman. What has this to do with QT? I don’t know, except they both appeared serendipitously, Internet-style.

Then, a nice interview of QT on Leone. It boils down to his professed love for The Good, the bad and the ugly as the best film ever produced, because (note the rigorous logic here) well, it is the best movie ever done.

I could add here the list of details QT has cared for when shooting his last film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, another homage to Leone and Sergio Corbucci, and of course, just in time, to Morricone. From Manson’s song to the movie theater that he bought in LA:

As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.
(From Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, the New Beverly is now closed, due to the pandemic. But I loved that movie.

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Inspiring Webs

“Memex” by mariebeysson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I have been following John Naughton’s blog Memex (the title being a link in itself to the mother of all hypertext machines) for a while, for his recommendations and acute, to-the-point observations, his articles on The Observer, and so on. Compelling, but this is not all. Every day for a while he has been sharing some “Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news”. Since, you see,

Recently, I became so fed up with the morning radio news programmes […] that I decided it would be better for my sanity just to listen to music at breakfast and read the news in papers and on the Web. Hence the ‘Musical alternative’ at the top of each day’s blog.

John Naughton

That, when I read it, did rang a bell. I have had, in fact, a similar reaction to the radio news programs as well as the tv news ones. Suddenly, I got fed up with their little muzaks, noise, frills and pompousness. I got fed of the US tv news outlets, the Puerto Rico ones, the European, and so on & so forth. And I got fed of the so-called analysts.

It helped that for similar reasons, in my home we decided to also get rid of cable TV. We were paying a lot for tv we weren’t watching. And we weren’t watching tv for the above-mentioned reasons. And because, let’s face it, tv is pretty poor today. Even considering the golden age of tv series, which I love (some of them, at least), it was worth the while to save a little and focus instead of internet-driven content, with Netflix et al.

Also, practically since the Web age’s dawn, circa 1992, I began a practice of reading Newspapers on the Web. And yes, one of the very first on the Web was Italy’s visionary and left-wing Il Manifesto, a paper I recommend, even though today I don’t read it often any longer. Motivated in part by the need I felt to read news in Italian and of Italy, I began thus a daily practice to read newspapers on the Web. Not on social networks, but straight from a browser. Not any browser, mind you, but Firefox. I started with Il Manifesto, then went mainstream with La Repubblica. I added soon the major Puerto Rican papers too, typically El Nuevo Día. Then, others piled up, such as Spain’s El País, The New York Times (the only paper I actually pay 4 dollars a month), the Guardian and some others.

So, I felt at home with that expression:

I decided it would be better for my sanity just to listen to music at breakfast and read the news in papers and on the Web

I love that practice, and I love the space it affords, to relax, sit down and enjoy the readings of different newspapers, in the original way they are thought of, compiled and published. And I love some other human actually prefers like me to read the news on newspapers rather than having them on tv.

Many bloggers publish link recommendations, some with comments. John’s own are lucid and he always points to very good English-language articles. He also recommends books (I love that part too), music and sometimes, a photo. Example comment on a news piece:

Facebook Braces Itself for Trump to Cast Doubt on Election Results Zuckerberg & Co are — according to the New York Times — working out what steps to take should Trump use its platform to dispute the vote. Well, well. Could this be the moment that reality dawns on these geniuses?

I have already written about the people and Webs that inspire me, and certainly this one is one of the best. It’s very refreshing to read such great reading recommendations and analyses.

This is marvelous. Ceiliuradh = Celebration, pronounce = kell-oor-ah

And this is too, also recommended by Memex.

But, wait!! This song triggered a memory… A scene from a movie where some kid in the wild plays Dueling banjos with another guy. What film was that? Oh yes (thanks Google),

Deliverance, 1972

[Featured image: “linked data” by elcovs is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]

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