I am listening to a podcast of an Ideas show concerning the impact of AI on the professions. In the show, Professor Richard Susskind is interviewed by the host, Paul Kennedy. The interview is interspaced with excerpts from a speech Richard Susskind gave at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His thesis revolves around the expansion of new computer technologies, which thus far have altered employment in traditional industries and jobs, but not for the professions. He predicts that AI will begin to replace lawyers and medical doctors in many instances however. For example, AI can predict the outcome of a court case by using a deep database of similar situations. AI can assess symptoms and diagnose often more quickly and more accurately than medical doctors. He notes this is driven partially by the cost of legal advice and representation which fewer and fewer can afford, and the cost, complexity and unavailability of health care.
While teaching is still attempting to find a place as a profession, it is a similarly ‘soft’ vocation that requires a human being at its core. This blog was conceived as an extended meditation on the impact of computer technology on teaching at the university level, as well as promoting a conversation over how best to teach in this environment. I am certain that AI will at some point in the near future begin to affect both online instruction and face to face teaching. It will do so in a more profound fashion than the use of databases, websites, tools to detect plagiarism and so on that form much of my thinking here.
At present, I utilize a range of tools I have myself attached to the basic platform my university subscribes to (Desire2Learn/courselink): YouTube videos I record myself, Skype (either video or IM), Prezi, podcasts, links to good scholarly sources…. whatever I can find that does not involve the university bureaucracy to implement, and whatever allows for almost immediate responses to student queries or needs and most importantly, dissolves the impersonal nature of cyberspace.
I wonder how AI would affect this? Could an AI voice function answer most student questions faster than I can? Could an AI function read a student essay and assess its quality in terms of structure, thesis, argument, logic and the veracity of evidence, and the proper application of that evidence? Could students use AI to write their essays for them? Could the instructor’s AI assistant detect this plagiarism by the other AI entity?
Finally, would I, the human instructor be redundant entirely? That is, if I were employed at all, would I be the assistant?
And would the student learn?