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A student questioning his future in an AI centric world

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By Mohan Krishnamoorthy

We are all grappling with the impact of AI on our lives, more so after the slick machine-learning tool – ChatGPT and its variants exploded in our collective imagination. Schools and education segment is coming to terms with the impact of technology in unique ways. Like many netizens, our high-schooler son has taken to ChatGPT like a duck to water. No surprise here and it is certainly a great learning aid and knowing how to use tools like this will equip kids to take on the future.

As a parent, however, I am conflicted with this double-edged sword, especially when I see it being used to circumvent learning the fundamentals or to short-circuit the rigor of research.

Despite my admonitions and warnings from teachers, our son logs on to the tool to “speed up” his homework. I came across his ChatGPT’s history seeking an answer to questions like “(A)Assertion: Democracy is a form of government in which the power is vested in a few individuals. (R)Reason: people vote for their representatives through elections. Justify.” There were several queries on solving mathematical problems and equations in the cache too.

Our son claims that he is simply using the tool to “speed up” research and homework, but my fear is that my son might lose the drive to discovering ways to find answers. His argument justifying the use of the tool is simple: “why read through pages of text, when I can get the answers with a few keystrokes?” At one point in our debate, he got frustrated and simply said “Why even bother studying hard and getting into a ‘good’ college if AI is going to eventually take over our jobs?”

I was dumbfounded by the perverse and convoluted logic in his teen mind that assumes that he can coast through life by simply learning to use tools like ChatGPT. However smart ChatGPT and variants are, they still are tools.
Questions on the use of AI/ML tools and the fast pace of advancement is mind-blowing and many of us continue to play catch up. However, the next generation, unencumbered by the legacy are thinking two steps ahead and using the tools in unexpected ways.

In the past few months, we have also seen stories of college going kids and students dropping out to explore startups opportunities in the “AI economy.” There are also stories of students dropping out in the fearing that the years spent in university with their student loans will be futile if their jobs are going to be automated anyways. There is a bit of media-driven hyperbole, but behind the clickbait headlines there is some serious soul searching happening too.

Learning how to learn is more important than what you learn
While reflecting on my son’s question, I decided to paraphrase it and ask fellow Redditors on Futurology, a popular subedit. The question exploded with 2600 upvotes and over 2,000 comments and responses from the Digirati, and as expected, the responses from the community were all over the place. However, after sifting through the thoughtful responses that fellow users had upvoted, a pattern began to emerge.

There was a consensus that formal education, and the grounding in the fundamentals that schools and universities inculcate is absolutely essential to equip students to take on life’s challenges.

There was one comment that stood out:
“I work with some young’uns who are in their first job, and the difference between those who learnt how to learn and those who didn’t is so stark. The ones who just coasted through school doing the bare minimum are next to useless, and sorry to say won’t be with us for much longer. They just aren’t able to internalise what you teach them, and are just not capable of self learning, and in this role there’s a lot of different software you need to understand and be competent with, as well as a lot of processes you must be familiar with.”

Most respondents emphasized the art of knowing how to solve problems and use of techniques one has learnt will help navigate life’s unexpected challenges. By using tools like ChatGPT to write ‘impressive’ papers or to solve school-math homework, students are not only cheating their teachers but also themselves.

So, what does ChatGPT have to say about this?

I decided to ask ChatGPT inputs, and here’s a reasonable, logical response I got back:

It’s understandable for your son to have concerns about the impact of AI on future job prospects. While it’s true that AI may change the job market, it doesn’t mean that traditional skills and education become obsolete. Here’s some advice to consider:

1. Adaptability: Encourage your son to develop skills that complement AI rather than compete with it. Skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability will always be valuable, even in an AI-dominated world.
2. Lifelong learning: Emphasize the importance of continuous learning throughout life. The ability to learn and adapt to new technologies and trends will remain essential. Even if certain jobs are automated, new opportunities will emerge, and individuals who possess a thirst for knowledge will be better equipped to seize them.
3. Unique human qualities: Remind your son that humans possess qualities that AI cannot replicate, such as empathy, intuition, and ethical decision-making. Encourage him to explore fields that require human interaction, creativity, and emotional intelligence, which are less likely to be replaced by AI.
4. AI as a tool, not a substitute: While AI tools like ChatGPT can be helpful, they are not a replacement for human intelligence and creativity. Encourage your son to leverage these tools as aids for learning and problem-solving rather than relying solely on them.

Ultimately, the goal should be to strike a balance between utilizing AI as a tool and developing unique human skills that will remain valuable in the future. Encourage your son to pursue his passions, explore diverse interests, and focus on personal growth, as these qualities will contribute to his long-term success, regardless of the evolving job market.

I would have to bow to our collective wisdom that ChatGPT has responded with. I couldn’t have written it better.

Conclusion
Many manual, repetitive jobs are getting automated at a fast pace, and some are even becoming obsolete. For instance, Doctors are using AI based tools to aid in complex surgeries or to scan through medical reports, MRIs and X-Rays; but they still rely on their expertise gained after years of medical training. Same with commercial pilots who use autopilots and automated navigational aids to guide them to safely navigate flights.

While AI and ML tools are impressive to a layman, it still takes people who know what’s “right” is to say when the computer is getting things right, when it’s wrong, and how to fix things. Even as repetitive tasks and jobs are automated, critical thinking, creativity and intellectual skills will continue to be valuable.

About the Author
Mohan Krishnamoorthy is an Indian American technology executive with a multinational company. His viewpoints and papers have been published in several international technical and nontechnical journals.
He can be reached at [email protected] or https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohanbabuk/

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