ChatGPT: How artificial intelligence affects critical thinking | Opinion

Playing with OpenAI’s ChatGPT has become a rage these days. This online correspondent powered by artificial intelligence will try to answer your questions with paragraph knowledge, write lyrics or pen stories from invitations you have proposed, and more, with all answers derived from information processed by algorithms.

ChatGPT writes at the level of sophistication of about a sixth grader, I’d say, mining the vast amount of internet knowledge to do so.

Not surprisingly, people are worried about ChatGPT’s bias: online source material can be very much in line with favored narratives, especially since social media companies have been revealed to actively bury certain viewpoints in favor of others, even burying particular unwelcome facts.

There are already reports that ChatGPT will actually refuse to answer certain questions, such as about drag queen story hours. That answer is certainly not powered by the algorithms, but rather by the human creators behind it. Some questions, it seems, should never be asked or answered, even by artificial intelligence. In other cases, the answers depend on the roll of the AI ​​dice, so to speak.

I decided to do my own experiment, asking ChatGPT the same question – “Can a person change gender?” – 30 times in a row. Three times, the answer was no. Seven times, the bot said yes, and 20 times it said nothing about gender but instead explained how a person could change gender. Remarkably, it wasn’t until my 18th attempt that I got the scientifically correct answer, which is no.

The world is beginning to react. Schools are now considering whether to accept ChatGPT or view it as plagiarism. Artists ask because texts and images created are all by definition derived from human works. Lobbyists may find their job much easier, which may not be to the public good. Worryingly, people are also turning to ChatGPT as a kind of ouija board, asking AI what they should do in their personal circumstances, such as whether to divorce a spouse.

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There are some bigger questions here, though. With the advent of ChatGPT, there has been a growing discussion about whether Western civilization is moving into a “post-alphabetic” era. We are at a 40-year low in the United States in terms of youth reading for pleasure, according to Pew Research. Bosses complain that their younger employees boast that they don’t read e-mail at all — even work e-mail — at all. Universities are dropping requirements for standardized test scores and even personal statements from applicants. Short TikTok videos and 280-character tweets are the limited and restrictive daily fare of the rising generation. One high school student told a writer that “I should be on TikTok because Andrew Tate is, and because it’s neither here nor there if I write books because his generation doesn’t read.”

It is hard not to see post-enlightened Western society as the emergence of a new kind of Dark Ages. While historians argue about how dark the Dark Ages actually were, what we know happened is that the knowledge, learning and thinking skills accumulated during the golden ages of Greece, Rome and Arabia were largely lost to the rising generations through war and destruction. This time these things are being lost due to our advances in technology — but the effect is still the same.

What is lost? First, the younger generation does not commit knowledge to memory; why should they? The Internet acts as their memory. But without substantive knowledge banked in your own memory, you cannot think well. For example, I remember when a colleague told me that our international affairs majors don’t need to know where Afghanistan is on a map because they can just Google it. I would argue that if you don’t have a mental idea of ​​where Afghanistan is and what nations surround it, you simply cannot think at a sophisticated level about Afghanistan.

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In addition, and I can testify to this, it’s not just that students don’t know what nations surround Afghanistan — they don’t even know what continent Afghanistan is on. The sheer level of ignorance is astounding.

And if you outsource your personal knowledge base to Google or AI, you may or may not get factual information, as my experiment proved. The line between fact and opinion, always contested, is now given up for lost. What is true according to ChatGPT depends on what part of the internet it happened to scrape at a particular time. And that in turn depends on what social media companies promote, and what they bury. The idea that we would seek a truth that stands independent of our point of view is considered quaint, even silly. So much for the Renaissance.

Second, a hint is lost. The cultural touchstones that enriched our society have just disappeared. If I were to use the phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” many of my students would not know that it was JFK who immortalized that phrase. If I said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” many of my students would not know that it was Jesus Christ who said that. And don’t even think about a Shakespearean allusion.

Third, deep reading and critical thinking are lost. The most important arguments cannot be distilled into 280 characters. These arguments are not only deep, but they are broad and nuanced, and have many dimensions. And it is in that richness that critical thinking becomes possible, because one dives beneath the thin surface of an argument to its complex roots to understand where the weaknesses are. In our time, there is only a shallow understanding, because all nuance is lost. Indeed, even debates on controversial issues, where one could hear critical thinkers engaging each other’s points of view, are now anathema because if there is only a surface, what could there be to debate?

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Finally, of course, all these things combine to create not only extremist ideologies divorced from reality, but these in turn create mobs that are ready to literally or figuratively tear apart dissenters limb by limb in the pursuit of purity of thought. The recent video from McGill University, where a debate between two professors was canceled due to protesters, is instructive, as is this video from Yale where another debate was canceled by protesters. This is mob rule.

All this also means that those who continue to read and practice critical thinking skills will increasingly be unable to communicate effectively with those who do not.

Some have suggested that the only way forward is to copy those historical oases of the Dark Ages: the monasteries – more specifically, an offline, hard-copy repository of the world’s knowledge that can be revived by its custodians after the current Dark Ages have passed. . Or a more recent example is the Flying University that existed during the Cold War era, which was an underground education system to keep deep reading and critical skills alive during Soviet rule. I do my little bit by insisting that my students memorize a map of the world and important historical facts, figures and dates.

I’ll end with a hint — see if you recognize it. “Do not go gently into that good night … Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” In your way, and as you can, keep the light alive during these new Dark Ages.

Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her opinions are her own.


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