One thing many have not grasped about this current explosion of AI, it is that it is moving fast – very fast. Performance improvement is real, fast and often surprising. This is why we must be careful in fixating on what these models do at present. The phrase 'AI is the worst it will ever be' is relevant here. People, especially in ethical discussions, are often fixated by the past, old tools and the present, and not considering the future. It only took 66 years between the first flight and getting to the moon. Progress in AI will be much faster.
In addition to being the fasted adopted technology in the history of our species, it has another feature that many miss – it learns, adapts and adds features very, very quickly. You have to check in daily to keep up.
The models learn, not just from unsupervised training on gargantuan amounts of data but also reinforcement learning by humans. LLMs reached escape velocity in functionality when the training set reached a certain size, there is still no end in sight yet. Developments such as synthetic data will take it further. This simple fact, that this is the first technology to ‘learn’ and learn fast, on scale, continuously, across a range of media and tasks, it what makes it extraordinary.
There is also the misconception around the word ‘generative’, the assumption that all it does is create blocks of predictable text. Wrong. May of its best uses in learning are its ability to summarise, outline, provide guidance, support and many other pedagogic features that can be built into the software. This works and will mean tutors, teachers, teaching support, not taking support, coaches and many other services will emerge that aid both teaching and learning. They are being developed in their hundreds as we speak.
On top of all this is the blending of generative AI with plug-ins, where everything from Wikipedia to advanced mathematics, have been added to supplement its functionality. These are performance enhancers. Ashok Goes had blended his already successful teaching bot Jill Watson with ChatGPT to increases the efficacy of both. Aon top of this are APIs that give it even more potency. The reverse is also true, where Generative AI supplements other tools. There are no end of online tools that have added generative AI to make them more productive, as it need not be a standalone tool.
Use and translation between hundreds of languages, also computer languages, even translation from text to computer languages, images, video, 3D characters, 3D worlds... it is astounding how fast this has happened, oiling productivity, communications, sharing and learning. Minority languages are no longer ignored.
All of the world's largest technology companies are now AI companies (all in US and China). The competitions is intense and drives things forward. This blistering pace means they are experimenting, innovating and involving us in that process. The prize of increased productivity, cheaper and faster learning, along with faster and better healthcare are already being seen, of you have the eyes to look.
People tend to fossilise their view of technology, their negativity means they don’t update their knowledge, experience and expectations. AI is largely Bayesian, it learns as it goes and it is not hanging around. People are profoundly non-Bayesian, they tend to rely on first impressions and stick with their fixed views through confirmation and negativity biases. They fear the future so stick to the present.
Those who do not see AI as a developing fast and exponentially, use their fixity of vision to criticise what has already been superseded. They poke fun at ChatGPT3.5 without having tried ChatGPT4, any plug-is or any of the other services available. It’s like using Wikipedia circa 2004 and saying ‘look, it got this wrong’. They poke the bear with prompts designed to flush out mistakes, like children trying to break a new toy. Worse they play the GIGO trick, garbage in: garbage out, then say ‘look it’s garbage’.
This is the worst AI will ever be and its way better than most journalists, teachers and commentators think, so we are in for a shock. The real digital divide is now between those with curiosity and those that refuse to listen. Anyone with access to a smartphone, computer laptop or tablet... that's basically almost all learners in the developed world have access to this technology. The real divide is among those in the know and not in the know, using it and not using it, and that is the increasing gap between learners and teachers. So focused are educators on the present they can’t see the future.