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Unraveling the History of Technological Skepticism

Technological advancements have always been met with a mix of skepticism and fear. From the telephone disrupting face-to-face communication to calculators diminishing mental arithmetic skills, each new technology has faced resistance. Even the written word was once believed to weaken human memory.

Technology Perceived Threat
Telephone Disrupting face-to-face communication
Calculators Diminishing mental arithmetic skills
Typewriter Degrading writing quality
Printing Press Threatening manual script work
Written Word Weakening human memory

However, it's crucial to understand the effect media has, especially new media. Marshall McLuhan's Tetrad, a useful tool for analyzing the impact of new technologies on media, applies four laws that help explain the complex relationship between technology and society.

The tetrad consists of four questions.

  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?

The Tetrad suggests that while new technologies may bring fear, they also:

  • Create new markets for luxury goods
  • Retrieve something from the past
  • Obsolete previous technologies
  • Reverse into the opposite effect when pushed to extremes

This synthetic process can help assuage fears that laypeople have regarding new forms of tech. It's important to remember that AI is not a threat to human intelligence, but rather a collaborative partner.

A Pattern of Progress

Despite initial resistance, each technology has ultimately contributed positively to society. The telephone connected distant people, calculators simplified complex calculations, and the Internet democratized information. These technologies have been beneficial overall, forming the framework for understanding the potential of AI as a collaborative partner.

Centaur Chess: Embracing Human-AI Collaboration

Centaur Chess, a concept that emerged after Garry Kasparov's defeat by IBM's Deep Blue, illustrates the potential for human-AI collaboration. In Centaur Chess, human players work with AI chess engines to enhance their strategic decision-making. The human player provides intuition and creative thinking, while the AI handles complex calculations and analysis.

This collaborative approach symbolizes the potential of human-AI partnership, where AI tools augment human abilities without replacing them. As Kasparov himself noted, "You can do a lot with the computer, but you still have to play good chess," emphasizing the complementary relationship between humans and AI.

AI Tools in Education: Aiding, Not Replacing

ChatGPT and similar AI tools in education should be seen as aids that raise the floor of literacy and writing skills without lowering the ceiling of excellence. They democratize access to quality writing, helping those with language barriers or communication difficulties to express themselves more effectively.

AI tools like ChatGPT are not threats but enablers that enhance human creativity and productivity. They provide assistance without detracting from the need for human insight and expertise.

Reflecting on the AI Era in Education

Recalling the early 2000s, educators warned against using Wikipedia, fearing its reliability. However, we learned to use it effectively, understanding the importance of verifying information and evaluating sources. This adaptability is essential in today's context with AI tools.

The Broader Picture: AI as a Catalyst for Improvement

Historically, each technological advancement, from calculators to the Internet, has been criticized but ultimately led to progress and improvement in human capabilities. AI in education is no different. It offers an opportunity to enhance learning and creativity, provided we approach it with the right mindset.

Analyzing GPT through McLuhan's Tetrad

Here's an analysis of GPT using Marshall McLuhan's media tetrad:

Aspect Effect
Extends Each voice & mimics creativity
Obsolesces Copy-writing and essays, making human insight a luxury
Retrieves Polymaths of the European Renaissance, requiring the best writers to be multi-talented to earn a living
Reverses Into mass deception, providing answers without real questions behind them

If the Retrieval quadrant interpretation is correct, it will become much more difficult to be an average, or even above average, writer. Only the best will flourish. Perhaps we will see a rise in neo-generalists. If you are early in your career, it may be best not to specialize but develop several complementary skills — in the sciences AND the humanities — including writing.

"Yet we continue with a polemic today that can be traced back at least to the time of the Renaissance, evidenced by an artificial schism between the arts and the sciences … It is why the current advocacy of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects, by policy makers and funding bodies seems so misguided. They are essential, but so too is the study of the humanities … It is through the hybridization of and cross-pollination between such disciplines that we will arrive at solutions for our wicked problems." —The Neo-generalist

Conclusion: The Chess Game with AI

Technology, including AI, has always raised concerns, but history shows it has augmented humanity, making us more productive and capable. Viewing AI as a collaborative partner, as demonstrated by the concept of Centaur Chess, can lead to a more enriched human experience.

In the game of technology and AI, "we still have to play good chess," leveraging these tools to elevate our skills and creativity, rather than viewing them as replacements for human intelligence. By understanding the complex relationship between technology and society through frameworks like McLuhan's Tetrad, we can embrace AI as a catalyst for progress and improvement while critically examining its potential impacts.