As artificial intelligence gets more intelligent, are humans becoming dumber? It seems like the more we rely on technology to solve problems, the more our problem solving skills and critical thinking decrease.
The rapid adoption of OpenAI’s generative AI tool, ChatGPT, is the latest advancement to make people re-evaluate our reliance on technology. The New York City Department of Education has already banned the use of ChatGPT on all school devices and networks. Some educators already believe that ChatGPT could completely replace them.
The fear of artificial intelligence threatening critical thinking isn’t new. Stephen Hawking once famously said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." Ironically, he was able to vocalize this warning using an AI-powered speech system developed by Intel.
It might seem similarly paradoxical that a company like ours would raise questions about the dark side of AI. Gigster uses AI to help manage our distributed teams, we just announced a new ChatGPT Enterprise Integration Support service, and we offer a suite of AI development services.
Therefore, we are not saying AI tools such as ChatGPT are bad, we are instead highlighting the potential dangers of workers and society relying so heavily on technology and sacrificing interpersonal and problem solving skills as unintended consequences which need to be managed.
A recent study found that 86% of respondents found critical thinking skills lacking in students. It’s easy to guess why. Students used to be asked to write essays in school in order to teach them how to read, analyze, and form their own opinions. Then, instead of reading the book, students could just copy this analysis from Sparknotes. Now, they don’t even need to read the Sparknotes. They can just ask ChatGPT to summarize.
School has become more utilitarian and less about actual learning or skill development.
Technology has impacted children’s development in other vital ways too. “The Google Effect” refers to the fact that people tend to forget things they know they can easily find on the internet, but remember things they know they can’t find online. This isn’t an entirely negative effect, but a change in how memory operates. Instead of remembering the actual information, people remember where they can find that information. Children are getting worse at remembering information but better at finding it.
People raised in the era of watching YouTube and scanning their phone at the same time are also becoming much better at multitasking. However, they’re getting much worse at actually absorbing the information they’re consuming. In a study of college students, subjects that watched a news segment with only the news anchor on screen remembered significantly more facts about the broadcast than subjects that watched it with the distraction of crawling text at the bottom of the screen providing additional stock market and weather information.
Critical thinking and retention aren’t the only soft skills at risk. A study by the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center found children and teens that rely heavily on technology to communicate had significantly lower people skills and empathy. Sixth graders that spent five days at a nature camp - away from smartphones and computers - were significantly better at reading facial expressions and other nonverbal emotional cues than sixth-graders who continued to communicate via technology during that time.
The question is, does technology raise students without the skills needed for the real world? Or are the skills they are learning preparing them for the new future of work? And is this future of work heading in the right direction?
While automation is undoubtedly a key component of the future of work, we’ll still need humans that can think and reason to properly guide these machines and the company as a whole.
If AI is made to mimic human intelligence, it requires intelligent humans to program it and a corpus of intelligent human work to learn from. If every generation relies a bit more on AI for their critical thinking and allows their own reasoning skills to diminish, the quality of AI will inevitably follow.
One of the dangers of tools like ChatGPT, in its current state, is it can produce information that sounds good but is just plain wrong. The operator still needs to be able to analyze the information AI produces and determine its accuracy for themselves.
We work with a lot of companies that have used autoML or no-code tools to get their organizations started with machine learning. While these tools are great, they have their limitations. The level of level of accuracy and reliability from a more generic ML model can plateau without an experienced data science team helping to tailor it more deeply to an organization’s workflows and data.
Despite our current overreliance on technology, we could be reaching a tipping point that helps us return to valuing critical thinking and soft skills.
Classrooms can no longer ask students to “summarize The Grapes of Wrath in 500 words” now that ChatGPT can perform that act in seconds. Instead, education will need to evolve (or revert back to) teaching students how to think critically and form their own, original opinions. Assignments that incorporate classroom discussions, real-life experiences, and more personal input won’t be able to be easily generated by AI and will actually result in a richer educational experience.
As AI guru Andrew Ng recently mused, “I wish schools could make homework so joyful that students want to do it themselves, rather than let ChatGPT have all the fun.”
By that same token, the future of work will need to evolve past simply testing for technical abilities. As these technical abilities become more automated, the true skills will be knowing how to apply the data and how to work with others to solve problems.
Recent studies show that the value of critical thinking is on the rise. High innovators in the technology, media and telecom industries rate critical thinking as the most important skill for new candidates (46%), even higher than a deep knowledge and expertise in innovative technologies (42%).
Gigster actually uses our AI-powered project management platform to track soft skills as well as technical data and project milestones. This helps us identify team members that will work well together and will be uniquely suited to solve the problems the project involves. We’re also huge fans of ChatGPT and love finding new ways to use it.
To be honest, I’m still a little worried we’re slowly heading towards the bleak future from the movie Idiocracy - which gets less funny and more terrifying every day. But at least the rise in automation will make the problem of diminishing critical thinking skills more apparent. If schools and businesses address this problem with a greater focus on developing soft skills, we might just be okay.