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I don’t see, Johan, how a teacher can be anything but distressed by the availability of AI. So easy now to cheat. So hard for a teacher to catch the cheaters. Because this is cheating. Getting someone else to do your work is cheating, and the same goes for getting a machine to do it.

Should a teacher’s response be to give in and accept the situation?

How will students learn to do the work if they start by getting a machine to do it for them?

Having not learnt how to do the work themselves, how can they judge whether the machine’s work is good?

I sometimes use Deep-L translate to help with French-English and English-French translation. It’s a time saver. But I can judge whether what it produces is correct and suitable for my purpose, because I spent many years learning French the hard way, the proper way.

I have a collection of my essays from French III. They all got high marks. I’m proud of them, because they represent a lot of hard work, and they demonstrate the level of skill I achieved, with only the help of a dictionary and a grammar. If I’d had access to Deep-L then, it would have been tempting to skip the hard work and I would never have reached that level.

How can students who use AI take pride in their work?

Allowing them to use the machine is cheating them of personal achievement that they can be proud of.

As for ‘bogged down in the mechanics of writing’, that reflects a common misperception: the notion that you have the ideas and simply write them down. Writing is thinking. If students don’t go through that process, they won’t learn to write, let alone think. Instead of learning, they will waste time playing with the things the machine can do.

Jerry Seinfeld, who seems to be a wise man, pinned down the basic problem here: putting product before process. Students are at university to go through a process: learning to do something. Not to turn out a product by any means available, skipping the process.

Johan, did any of your students have the courage and self-respect not to use AI, and to state that their essay was entirely their own work?

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How is this different from a calculator, Di? Pocket calculators did not cause math ability to whither. It instead allowed students to focus on the less tedious things of the job.

Perhaps AI will eventually be good enough to displace most of what we do. But given our poor education outcomes, I don't think it could do much worse than what we have. And the upside – personalised AI assistants, for example – seem to hold much potential for actually helping to upskill the weakest students, closing the education gap.

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Johan, as regards maths, I can’t comment on present standards, except with anecdotal evidence. I’ve found my grandson hesitant or dumbstruck in performing simple mental arithmetic that didn’t faze me at his age. (And yet I was considered not very gifted at maths, whereas his school tells him he’s excellent.) What appears to me his lack of achievement appropriate to his age seems to be partly because the school hasn’t thought it worthwhile making him learn his times tables, and partly because of the bizarre new methods of teaching maths. Apparently the method used to teach me, then called the new maths, was inspired by the desire of the US to beat Russia in the space race. Certainly it didn’t involve allowing children to rely on calculators before learning the basics.

As for ‘the tedious things of the job’, I’m all for machines taking over drudgery. The washing machine was a great advance for women. I’m glad not to have to rub and scrub in a tub. But AI is taking over processes that may be tedious for some, but essential for fully mastering an academic skill. Learning French irregular verbs, for example, is tedious, but having to learn them, and other mechanisms of the language, made me able to write and speak the language with confidence. I’m glad I was not allowed to use an AI translator to save me this effort. If that had been allowed, I’d still be hobbling along, leaning on that crutch. The tedious effort taught me something. It gave me a skill. Scrubbing clothes would have taught me nothing and given me nothing, so there I’m grateful to the machine. But having to rely on a ‘personalised AI assistant’ when I want to write or speak French would be humiliating. Have we lost pride in human skill? Are we going to deny students the pleasure of looking back at the tedious effort that was required of them and enjoying what it enabled them to do by themselves?

As for ‘closing the education gap’, I suspect AI will do no such thing. Rather, it will give the academically ungifted and lazy the illusion that they can do as well as the gifted and hardworking. And how is the teacher to distinguish merit if all the students are relying on the machine?

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Johan, your interesting article omits two important questions:

1. If AI can do creative work (write essays, create artworks, etc.), what will happen to the creative people whose jobs are lost to the machine?

2. If AI becomes as brilliant as you seem to hope, what will be the use of human beings at all? Will we end up in a world of the brain-dead, while machines write books for machines to read?

I believe students should be banned from using AI until they have learned to write by themselves. This might mean using pen and paper, or a typewriter, on the same principle as banning calculators until children have learned to do basic maths. You seem to think that LLMs are just a superior kind of dictionary or thesaurus. But those aids don’t do the work for you.

In his address at Duke University’s Commencement in May this year, where he received an honorary doctorate, Jerry Seinfeld said AI might be ‘the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever invented in mankind’s time on Earth’. He summed up what might be a student’s justification for using AI: ‘I couldn’t do it.’ He said: ‘The ad campaign for ChatGPT should be the opposite of Nike’s: “You just can’t do it”.’ And as for the big picture of humanity’s creation of AI, his conclusion was: ‘Smart enough to invent it, dumb enough to need it.’

Maybe the ‘pen pals’ of your title are actually ‘pen enemies’?

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