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October 02, 2023

Artificial Intelligence Can Cure Educational Disparities for Real

It should be required, not banned.

The first week I took physics a million years ago, we were taught to use a sliderule, an indispensable tool of the trade. When electronic calculators became affordable, they were banned in some classrooms because students who pushed buttons might never learn to use sliderules. Now almost no one can use a slide rule! So what? We can solve physics problems much faster than we used to.

For research, we were taught how to use library card catalogs and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. We haven’t needed them since the first internet search engines. We have almost all the knowledge in the universe at our fingertips. Sure, there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet. There was in books and periodicals, too; it was just harder to cross-check sources.

Now some schools say it is “cheating” to use ChatGPT to write or help write an essay. Baloney. It is malpractice not to teach students how LLMs (Large Language Models like ChatGPT) can be used to research and write. Part of that teaching, of course, must be how to cross-check answers, how to check for hallucinations (plausible but incorrect answers), and how to add human insight. But those skills have always been needed even though they’ve been lamentably ignored.

AI is a leveler. See the ZDnet article “Generative AI can be the academic assistant an underserved student needs” (which I found with the help of ChatGPT and Bing):

“From essay writing to standardized test prep and scores, navigating the higher education path involves complex twists and turns that can put students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at a disadvantage…

“Due to time and importance, many students seek costly outside services. A Google search of ‘college essay assistance’ revealed an oversaturation of services. One such service, PrepMaven, costs $79 to $349 per hour, with a minimum $510 package. With a PrepMaven subscription, students are entitled to an initial consultation and multiple essay revision cycles, according to the website.

“Conversely, ChatGPT and other AI writing assistants have the ability to provide the same ideation services and grammar-specific essay guidance -- for free.”

Many high school students, especially those in inner-city schools, are woefully underprepared; we’ve failed them. They can catch up in a hurry if they learn to use LLMs not only to substitute for the basic skills they were never taught but also to give them a leg up on those who only know how to Google.

A rich parent can afford tutors and “coaches” (ie ghostwriters) to help with college entrance essays. Given Internet access and a smartphone or a computer, ChatGPT is free. It may well do a better job than tutors and coaches. Just teach the kids how to use it! They will be qualified for the colleges they get into because they already will know how to use these new tools. They will have a good chance of being able to do the college work.

In many cases college itself isn’t necessarily needed for a great career – especially if AI is available as a handy tutor and assistant. But training in using AI is essential; it will help nurses and carpenters as much or more than it helps “knowledge” workers, whose “knowledge” may be as useful as the skills required to use a sliderule. It can go a huge way towards making up for the education our kids – and other people’s kids – haven’t been getting. It will help with both social mobility and inequality. It must be taught aggressively and used to its fullest, not banned in the classroom.

See also:

Artificial Intelligence Can Learn But It Can’t Think

Is AI Dangerous?

Why Artificial Intelligence Will Lead to Job Growth

Better Learn to Do Carpentry

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