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Think Piece


Aug 3, 2023


Image: CrisNYCa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I grew up viewing Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" as a solitary figure. For a long time, I had no idea that this sculpture was originally called "The Poet," or that it was part of a massive work of unprecedented scope, "The Gates of Hell," inspired by Dante's Inferno:

Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rodin spent 37 years working on this project, commissioned by the French Directorate of Fine Arts for a planned Decorative Arts Museum. He envisioned the piece positioned at the entrance, telling visitors, a la Dante, "Abandon every hope, who enter here." It never happened. The museum was never built.

"What," you may be asking, "does this have to do with Weelrn or AI?"

People think they know AI like I thought I knew The Thinker. The term "AI" is everywhere. ChatGPT, Dall-E, and excited/panicked educators are creating new headlines every day. But the truth is that AI has been around for decades, and it's not what you think it is. AI doesn't exist on an island by itself. Maybe it's a thinker, or a poet, but more likely it's just a projection of our own thinking. It's not even that bright.

As Professor Carissa Véliz puts it, "If Socrates was the wisest person in Ancient Greece, then large language models must be the most foolish systems in the modern world."

Professor Véliz works at the Institute for Ethics in AI at the University of Oxford, where she also serves as editor for the Oxford Handbook of Digital Ethics. She goes on to explain:

"Socrates is the wisest because he is aware of the limits of his own knowledge. He doesn't think he knows more than he does, and he doesn't claim to know more than he does.

How does that compare with large language models like ChatGPT4?

In contrast to Socrates, large language models don't know what they don’t know. These systems are not built to be truth-tracking. They are not based on empirical evidence or logic. They make statistical guesses that are very often wrong."

There are plenty of people out there promoting AI as the next Great Thing in education technology. It's not. AI is just a tool.

At Weelrn, we want to empower educators and learners to make better use of emerging technology. That's what separates our signal from all the marketplace noise; we help content providers, learning management systems, and learning communities of all sizes tailor their use of AI-enhanced social media to achieve their goals. Weelrn is more than a "platform" or a "thing" – it's a way of interacting with information and each other that helps us grow and master concepts in the process.

So the next time you hear someone mention AI, remember The Thinker.

AI is not a thinker. You are.

Together. Weelrn.

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