Opinion: Here are critical questions we should be asking about ChatGPT

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Stephanie Jones is the University of Georgia Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor, Mary Frances Early College of Education. In this guest column, she raises questions about the implications of artificial intelligence, including the widely debated ChatGPT, in our society, workplaces and classrooms.

By Stephanie Jones

ChatGPT is just another iteration of artificial intelligence in our lives, albeit a world-changing one.. While this model has caused a panic about students “cheating” on assignments, I largely stand with folks who have written about the importance of teaching with the program and rethinking what it means to be together in a shared classroom space.

Children and youths are already living their lives with artificial intelligence. The very presence of artificial intelligence like Alexa, Google, TikTok video creation, voice-to-text, autocorrect, Snapchat filters, Spotify playlists, drawing apps, and Siri fundamentally alters their existence.

Credit: Courtesy Photo

Credit: Courtesy Photo

But this is not what I’m panicking about.

Artificial Intelligence changes work and replaces workers while making billions. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence model created by Open AI that claims to be “creating safe artificial general intelligence that benefits all of humanity.” ChatGPT is only one model created by a company that is projected to generate a billion dollars in revenue in 2024. Benefiting humanity is a lofty claim that many technology companies make, but we should be very skeptical and critical about such claims.

You, your students, myself, and anyone else who logs on to Open AI to use or play with ChatGPT, are all giving the private corporation free human feedback that will improve the model. In fact, that is why ChatGPT is free to use, for now.

Our intelligence will be absorbed by this artificial intelligence model that will likely become a paid service in the future. We will give what we know for free, the corporation will integrate that into the model, and then sell it as a product we have to purchase.

And the company will make hundreds of millions and more dollars. This technology will also, undeniably, replace jobs, displace workers. Any worker who writes anything as part of their job is at risk of being replaced.

The business model that acquires intelligence from the public for free, and then turns around and profits from that acquired intelligence is not new. Take Google Translate, for example, and every other Google program. Someone uses it to translate a Spanish language text into English, and if the translation isn’t quite right, they give feedback to the artificial intelligence system to improve it. Their individual knowledge and intelligence is absorbed into the artificial intelligence program, and the next time someone uses the system for a similar translation, that person will receive a more accurate outcome. However, Google — which released AI tools this week — thus far has a different revenue-generating model than Open AI.

Google’s services and products are “free” to use, and because millions of users use them, Google gets revenue from companies who want to advertise in those services and products. Google matches users’ use of the services to the ads that most closely align with them. So users exchange their data (personal data, intelligence they share, and usage patterns) for access to the technological services. That’s not exactly free, and it generates billions of dollars — more than a $100 billion a year. Additionally, the kind of technology and artificial intelligence used by Google and similar companies replaces jobs, displaces workers, and reconfigures — entirely — what work is and will become.

Experts repeatedly say that technological advances such as those evident in ChatGPT will “kill off jobs and widen wealth inequality.”

How will we educate students about our collective role in generating wealth for others?

I didn’t plan to write an entire essay on some of the ways that “artificial intelligence” becomes possible and valuable because the general population willingly shares their intelligence. But it is critically important to understand how this happens, and to be conscious that the extreme wealth generated by these companies stands in stark contrast to the stagnant wages and increasingly precarious jobs that are and will be available to most people in this country — even white-collar, college-degreed, “professional” jobs.

Rather than asking questions about students cheating on assignments, we should be asking ourselves and our students how we can understand the way billion-dollar corporations benefit from our collective use of their systems.

We should be inquiring into the ways such business models reproduce and exacerbate economic inequality here and across the globe; and challenge those models to distribute profits in a way that acknowledges the collective work and contributions of a society at large. ChatGPT is just one example of this business model, but a powerful case study.

If technology companies claim to be improving humanity, then we should pose the question to our students and the broader society: How are the profits of a company, generated by a collective society, being used to improve the living conditions and everyday lives of the people who are most economically vulnerable because of these technological advancements?

These questions might lead to learning about and imagining generalized dividends for every person in a state or country like the oil-wealth dividend in Alaska, or Universal Basic Income, or Guaranteed Income.

What is education for when it’s not about creating workers? I started writing this essay to say in the loudest possible writing voice I could muster, that the purpose of education cannot be about creating workers.

K-12 and university educators have long repeated the mantra that students need to be prepared for “the workforce.” But we have no idea what kind of work will be available in even five years. To pursue this vision of education is unethical, unreasonable and insufficient.

We must ask ourselves why we bring young people and teachers together each day. What is our purpose? What kind of world, exactly, are we trying to shape with our time together?

I’m not here to prescribe responses to these questions but rather to encourage deep thinking and critical imagination. But I do hope they might lead us to imagining education as a space where people learn to cultivate a life that is meaningful, joyful, fulfilling, healthy, exciting, creative, and in balance with the earth.