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AI, Teaching, and “Our Willingness to Give Bullshit a Pass”

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There has been a fair amount of concern over the threats that ChatGPT and AI in general pose to teaching. But perhaps there’s an upside?

Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) entertains the possibility:

Without wanting to diss the underlying neural network, but ChatGPT is a bullshitter in the (Frankfurt) sense of having no concern for the truth at all… 

I have seen many of my American colleagues remark that while ChatGPT is, as of yet, unable to handle technical stuff skillfully, it can produce B- undergraduate papers. In a very sophisticated and prescient essay last Summer, the philosopher John Symons had already noticed this: “It turns out that the system was also pretty good, certainly as good as a mediocre undergraduate student, at generating passable paragraphs that could be strung together to produce the kinds of essays that might ordinarily get a C+ or a B-.” Symons teaches at Kansas, but I have seen similar claims by professors who teach at the most selective universities…

But this means that many students pass through our courses and pass them in virtue of generating passable paragraphs that do not reveal any understanding… [I]t is not a good thing that one can pass our college classes while bullshitting thanks to (say) one’s expensive private, high school education that taught one how to write passable paragraphs.

This state of affairs helps explain partially, I think, the contempt by which so many in the political and corporate class (especially in Silicon Valley) hold the academy, and the Humanities in particular… And, as I reflected on the academics’ response to ChatGPT, who can blame them? The corporate and political climbers are on to the fact that producing grammatically correct bullshit is apparently often sufficient to pass too many of our introductory courses… And if introductory courses are their only exposure, I suspect they infer, falsely, from this that there is no genuine expertise or skilled judgment to be acquired in the higher reaches of our disciplines.

That there is such contempt is clear from the fact that in countless recent political controversies, the Humanities are without influential friends. Now, I don’t mean to suggest masochistically that this state of affairs is solely the product of what we do in our introductory classrooms. For all I know it is the least significant contributing factor of a much more general cultural shift. But it is to be hoped that if ChatGPT triggers us into tackling how we can remove our willingness to give bullshit a pass — even for the wrong reason (combatting the the threat of massive plagiarism) — then it may help us improve higher education.

The above is an excerpt from a post at Crooked Timber.

Originally appeared on Daily Nous Read More

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