It’s easy to grow jaded about the news that technological innovations are going to wipe out entire industries. Any time a new innovative technology appears, people seem dead set on making predictions regarding the ways in which it is going to completely uproot our society.

For a recent example of this, we can look to the Metaverse, NFTs, and a number of other Web3-adjacent hype trains that have fizzled out in the midst of claims that they would be the next step in the future of the internet.

Despite all of this hype, few new technologies have had the same widespread fascination as artificial intelligence, with a specific focus on ChatGPT. This (initially) Elon Musk-backed adaptive learning project has become the poster child of the AI renaissance, spearheading a mass adoption of a technology that is still early enough in its cultural infancy for people to have legitimate concerns about its effect on the world.

One area in which ChatGPT has seen great debate and deliberation is the field of education, and it’s easy to see why. ChatGPT is an AI learning model that has been trained using decades of data and information from across the globe, it is a tool capable of convincingly providing users with solutions to problems both simple and complex on practically any topic imaginable.

This has quickly led to ChatGPT being discussed as the death of homework, and while this may be a tad premature, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that the proliferation of artificial intelligence as a widely accessible tool has the possibility of permanently altering the way we look at educational frameworks.

So, is ChatGPT the villain of modern education, or is there a place for OpenAI software within the next steps of educational development?

Potential Benefits For ChatGPT in Schools

Whilst standardised high-school and prep learning has its benefits in terms of providing young people with the skills needed to live, work, and thrive, it’s by no means perfect. Large classrooms mean a lot of students being taught by a limited number of teachers, and as teachers are currently in high demand across America, Australia, and beyond, the current educational workforce for high schools has a lot to handle and navigate when teaching the next generation.

This is by no means an entirely new issue, but it is one that was exacerbated by the pandemic in ways that are still becoming apparent to us today. With this, some have indeed suggested that artificial intelligence and adaptive learning software could fill the void. AI learning models have proven highly effective at detecting mistakes, providing feedback, and absorbing data far faster than is possible through traditional means.

Naturally, this is by no means a replacement for traditional education. A large portion of education is being taught how to think about problems, as well as the curation of knowledge in ways that self-guided use of an AI learning tool is unlikely to replicate. Nevertheless, the ability for students to have information explained to them on their terms in ways that they can process in their own time is valuable from an early learning perspective.

With all of that said, however, there are genuine concerns regarding the use of such technologies in a more practical framework.

The Challenges of ChatGPT

The issues with ChatGPT and other learning models are rarely discussed in comparison to the wide and varied claims that we will all be replaced by it in the near future. However, once you dig a little under the surface, you begin to see that many of these learning platforms are, at best, inefficient, and at worst, woefully misleading.

From nonexistent references being used to source information to base versions of ChatGPT failing to do math in many cases, and the need for improved knowledge around cybersecurity and data, it’s clear that we are simply not at a point where ChatGPT can be fully relied on, and in the field of education, this raises problems.

As we touched on earlier, the main goal of education isn’t simply pure data acquisition and regurgitation. Education teaches people how to think about complex problems and without that backing, it’s easy for students to fall into the trap of blindly accepting the information that has been algorithmically generated for them by a learning model that isn’t even as reliable as other, non-pre-trained learning model alternatives. 

Additionally, as a text-based learning tool, ChatGPT and other PLMs simply are not equipped for practical learning. An AI may be helpful in providing feedback for an English paper, but what about more specific practical tasks such as physical education, or tasks that are more subjective to interpretation? An over-reliance on artificial intelligence models is not going to be conducive to all fields of study, and those that it could be beneficial for are still at the mercy of problems that are endemic to large datasets when used in this way.

Additionally, fixed datasets, no matter how large, are as the name suggests, fixed. The way that these algorithms work in their current forms is by pulling from datasets that have a distinct cutoff point, meaning that new information and cutting-edge discoveries aren’t necessarily added into the system, and even if a study were to be added into the dataset, it would still be possible for prior, now inaccurate information, to make its way through due to sheer volume.

To be clear, this is an issue that can be overcome, but techniques for retraining these AIs for new information are highly costly and can require a significant amount of tweaking which is currently unavailable in most cases.

So, What’s the Verdict?

As with most questions, the answer to whether ChatGPT is a friend or foe for education is somewhere in the middle of the two. Will it be the death of education as we know it? Likely not, but it’s also not a perfect addition to the learning process and should be used carefully by educators who are hoping to support their students.

As the future becomes the present and the present becomes the past, we’re certain to see a lot of technologies aimed at disrupting life as we know it, and eventually, we will see those claims become reality.

However, for those who have an uncomplicated view of ChatGPT as the new inevitable step for educational institutions, there are still so many hurdles to be overcome before their idea of the future can come to fruition. But, who knows? The future is still a big question mark in terms of how this sort of technology will develop in the future, and it’s clear that AI has not reached its final form.

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