Will AI Replace Teachers?
Updated: Apr 14
The short answer? ‘Yes and No’
In the academic world, ChatGPT has been on everybody’s lips in the past few weeks as the University of Malta struggled with the debacle of students using it to write their own assignments with it.
ChatGPT is basically a software robot, still in the testing phase, that will generate fairly clever, well-written, and sophisticated chunks of text that is plagiarism-free, based on the prompt inputted by the human user. The clearer and more detailed the parameters given are, the more pertinent the answers. I have used this myself and I am quite impressed at the quality and specificity of its answers, where you would be excused if you thought a university professor was behind the keyboard on the other side of the chat, answering the question you wanted answered.
You can ask very specific things like “write me a 200 word discussion about euthanasia suitable for a 15 year old person”, and voila, ChatGPT will give you exactly what you asked for. Now how accurate that information is, would be another story. You can even ask it to give you a cited, referenced work, but will create fake references that do not exist, but which would easily fool anyone into thinking the robot pored through the Journal of Medical Science to generate its answers.
It would be up to the user to discern the quality of the information, and this I find to be quite problematic in a world where people already have great difficulty telling the difference between facts and fake news; science and pseudo-science; knowledge and charlatanism.
Our society is already going through an epistemological mess, in which the charismatic, more convoluted but wrong answer is preferred to the difficult to digest, simpler truth. In this time of vulnerability, the easy access to such technology as ChatGPT, is going to increase the risk of the impoverishment of knowledge for the time being. ChatGPT is a perfect tool to create fake news and hoaxes that look and sound like they have intellectual authority. It is creating an even bigger challenge in teaching the younger generation the importance of asking the question “How do you know what you know?”
What does the future look like for humanity, when we are creating such sophisticated technologies that can think, for us AND instead of us?
One can already observe a debate between the optimists and the pessimists; on one hand seeing this as an inevitable and necessary requirement for the future of humanity. Anyone watching Star Trek The Next Generation (which is my favourite series from the Star Trek universe) will immediately know I am referring to the character Data, the artificial intelligence android that is so essential to the starship’s community. On the other hand we have people going The Terminator or The Matrix (no reference to Andrew Tate whatsoever) route, seeing how humanity will eventually cease to exist once AI “takes over”.
I have already seen a few jokes around in online comments saying things similar to “I asked ChatGPT and it agrees with me, therefore I am right.” How long before this is not anecdotal any more? How long before AI will actually be used as a participant in democratic discourse, giving it a voice as equal to a voting citizen, if not an expert within the democratic process?
Would AI do a better job as an unbiased arbiter than a judge in a law court? After all judges in court should put aside their human biases and limitations as much as possible. It is the law and its interpretation that should reign supreme in court, not human limitations. Would it be so bad if we had robotic judges that expedite the court procedures? How far would we trust it? Imagine a world where documents, transcripts and evidence are submitted to an AI giving one an indication of decision and sentence. This does not mean we can do without human experts in jurisprudence, but imagine how useful AI in law would be, and if in the judiciary, what about law enforcement? Couldn't we all do with less mistakes on charge sheets?
Education deals with knowledge, skills, and the character of the pupil. AI so far is proving to be a great source of knowledge and skills, once the reliability of the information given is going to be ensured. However when it comes to the formation of character and attitudes, human beings still require the mentoring from an actual person to model behaviour and good habits that will become part of the pupil’s character in the long term. We are still very far from replacing that caring, mentoring aspect of the teaching profession that guarantees a human to human interaction with students. Something the pandemic has taught us is that students need that out of their teachers, possibly more than the knowledge the teacher is trying to impart. Schools and teachers are a driving force of socialization and until we create a robotic AI that is indistinguishable from a human being; an AI that can care and mentor, then a teacher will never be replaced.
But teachers CAN be replaced and soon enough, especially teachers who see their profession as simply reading out notes and handing out worksheets. An AI will be able to give a lecture and answer questions soon, but it is nowhere near replicating a lecturer who will make an appointment with a student to nudge them in the right direction because their personal life is hindering their academic progress. Those teachers and educational institutions that have factored out the humanistic aspect of education are the ones most threatened by AI, for the time being.
So far, AI can be a great tool for teachers to prepare content, to prepare assessments and to create and implement curricula. Teachers that can and are willing to incorporate AI in their practice will surely replace the teachers who don’t.