GPTChat: The Point of Education and Communication
Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash
Let’s talk about the recently famous invention “Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer” (or ChatGPT for short) that is taking over the internet and capturing our imaginations. For those unfamiliar, it’s a program designed to mimic human conversation. It’s free and I recommend trying it out. It is capable of generating text that mimics some sophisticated thoughts that people casually share and can also create lengthy essays or stories.
Many are pondering what this could mean for our approach to teaching in schools, with concerns that students might use ChatGPT to create papers (basically a new form of academic dishonesty). Some lament the possibility that with this new technology, many people would never read books that are normally taught in school.
Other authors on this site have similarly suggested that “artificial intelligence” technologies like ChatGPT will upend our notions of creativity, encourage dishonesty, and put professionals out of work.
But let’s pump the breaks for a moment and think this through carefully. Why do people want to learn at all? Why do we read books or do math problems? Why do we write creative pieces like fiction or poetry? Why do we form friendships and romantic relationships? Are digital technologies real? threatening our ability to do these things?
A theory of human motivation
Ask any psychologist familiar with self-determination theory and they will tell you that all sane people in every culture around the world are intrinsically motivated to learn, create, and connect with others. These psychological needs are referred to as competence, autonomyand relationship. Notably, people routinely strive to acquire knowledge, master new skills, and engage in meaningful intimate relationships even when there are no rewards or incentives for doing so.
I have written about this before, as have others on this site, such as evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray, one of my personal heroes.
If we know humans have this basic tendency, why should we worry about technology interfering with the things humans love to do anyway? Maybe it’s because we’re confused about what motivates our behavior. We have come to believe that young people will not study important subjects unless forced to do so, or that students will not read books or write essays unless it is necessary. This is, of course, undermined by the fact that adults routinely do these things in their spare time, just for fun.
Here are some personal examples from my life. I have been attending language courses in adult education since 2015 because I wanted to learn my wife’s mother tongue. I paid for the privilege of studying and have never cheated on an assessment. That would defeat the whole purpose and undermine my own goals! I also belong to a monthly book club and every time we meet I look forward to talking to my friends about the picks of the month. I’ve even honestly admitted that I haven’t finished our last book (a whopping 630-page deep dive into the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s).
I love reading and writing for its own sake, be it this blog or a private dream journal. There’s no incentive for me to fake any of this. I do these things to satisfy my basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and connectedness.
Learning based on motivation
Our ideal educational model at all levels would be based on fulfilling the same psychological impulses. Ask any student in a mainstream school how they feel when they hear their classes are cancelled. Do you feel happy? If yes, then there is a problem. students should want come to class, read books, write essays, and learn about subjects like math and science. If they don’t, it means the school system we use is undermining their motivation.
By eliminating the unnecessary and unhealthy bureaucracy associated with schooling (like GPAs), we would empower students to learn for the sake of learning. This would remove the incentive to cheat on a review or lie when reading. We would see students taking the initiative to read what interests them, and then voluntarily collect and talk about ideas they come across, as well as putting thoughts on paper and developing their logical and creative thinking. People would voluntarily engage in learning because it scratches an itch. Say goodbye to AI plagiarism!
In a recent episode of Very bad wizardsthe hosts talked about ChatGPT. Tamler Sommers posed the question: will ChatGPT be a monumental and irreplaceable technology, like the invention of the Internet itself, that revolutionized the way we live? Or will this be more like some disappointing computer-based communication inventions (like Alexa or Siri) that are kinda fun but ultimately we can live without?
Education essentials reads
In my opinion, ChatGPT is more of the latter (disappointing) than the former (revolutionary). But I think it’s worth giving something else as a thought exercise to help us calibrate our expectations of technology and other people, including those we work with or have relationships with. Ask yourself: would you mind if a student submitted an essay written entirely by ChatGPT? Would you mind if your spouse or friend sent you a text written by ChatGPT? Would you mind if your president gave a speech written by ChatGPT? Why or why not?
Human nature keeps me optimistic
I don’t worry about new inventions causing learning disabilities or social relationships because I remember who people really are. At our core, we were born to do these things. It’s just our nature. Here are some of my favorite quotes from Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, two seminal researchers on the subject who had a major impact on the field. You always cheer me up.
Humans are curious, interested creatures who naturally seek new things and challenges, enjoy learning, and actively absorb new practices and cultural values from those around them. Through evolution, humans are equipped with a strong willingness to learn. It is not a motivation that necessarily needs to be taught or encouraged.
Humans are born active, inquisitive, inquisitive, and playful creatures in their healthiest states, displaying an ever-present willingness to learn and explore, and need no outside stimulus to do so. This natural motivational tendency is a crucial element in cognitive, social, and physical development, because acting on one’s own interests increases knowledge and skills.