Artificial Intelligence (AI) is as scary as it sounds. Yes, it 100% means that robots are eventually going to rise up against us, and give us the inferiority complex we deserve. Before that though, they might help us out a little. The impact of AI on human learning is set to be revolutionary. In particular, the ability of AI to read, understand, and condense vast amounts of information in a matter of seconds may be able to put an end to those nights you spend trawling through pages and pages of content, instead allowing you to cut to the crux of it.
Cutting to the Crux: Is AI a Learning Miracle?
One big recent development in AI and learning is the rise of AI bots that summarise information for you. There’s a few out there, all with varying, but for the most part disappointing degrees of success. I recently discovered Summarize Bot, which is a bot that you can attach to either Slack or Facebook Messenger. Basically, you put a big chunk of information in it and it spits out a summary of that information. If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or victim of the minute millenial attention span, this is nothing short of a miracle.
I had a think about what profession could benefit most from this, and came up with the ever sleep-deprived lawyers. If you can name a profession that reads more, let me know, and I will amend this article quicker than Australia changes PMs.
To test out Summarize Bot, I found a criminal law case to run through. The original is 4,000 words. I ran it through the bot, which condensed it down to 1,000 words. Below is a short sample from Summarize Bot’s summary job:
“, prosecutor wished to call as a witness the accused's wife, Jatun Bibi Khan. She '.r-i '.<'i objected to giving evidence for the prosecution, but the Crown submitted that I , " " ! The accused and his wife are Fiji~ Indians.”
You can see that there's a few problems with Summarize Bot's rehashing of the case - commas out of place, funny sentence structure, and not much use of conjunctions like "the" or "and". Overall, it’s a bit hard to read. The full summary is here, if you’re interested.
Because I read through the case prior to testing the summary, I can understand Summarize Bot’s rehash of the case. However, if I hadn’t read it already, and was a stressed-out lawyer about to appear in front of a judge wearing a silly wig, I’d probably need to rely on more than just this summary.
However, the current utility of the program isn’t really the point.
The Future of Artificial Intelligence
Let’s accept that technology is evolving rapidly, and as a result the technology discussed above will most likely be of greater utility in a few years, if not a few months. I say “let’s accept” rather than “let’s assume” because the technology is based around "machine learning". If technology is based on machine learning it means that even without the presence of a developer or other trained genius, the technology will continue to learn and evolve without any human intervention. The more you use it, the more it learns, and it will do so at a pace much faster than a human could achieve.
It’s unfathomable how this technology, and the other myriad close-to-magic technologies will be revolutionary to human learning. Instead of reading twenty pages of a case in two hours, Mr. Lawyer gets through twenty cases in two hours.It will take a fraction of the time to get through the same amount of content. However, if history and human nature tells us anything, I doubt this will result in shorter learning or working hours.
Increased Efficiency Doesn’t Equal Reduced Hours
We all know that early humans were hunter-gatherers. They spent all day picking berries, chasing animals, and then all night cooking and preparing that food so they could eat it. It was exhausting! It took the whole day just to catch, cook and prepare your food for the day.
To fix that, we invented agriculture. Suddenly we could produce massive amounts of food all in one place, so we didn’t have to walk around all day looking for it. So much time saved!
But then, instead of using all that extra time to just to chill out, spend some time with friends or something, we invented modern society. Suddenly we had to do all this other stuff; go to school, have a career, file taxes. If anything, we’ve got less free time.**
Do you see where I’m going? AI may mean we get through things faster, but it won’t mean we have any more time in the day. We’ll just do more.
The Future of Learning
It may be sounding like AI is more burden than gift, but don’t let me bring you down. I don’t know many who want to go back to hunting boars all day. So, while we need to be honest about the effect that AI is going to have, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be hopeful.
More efficiency means we can get through more content, understand more concepts. We’ll learn so much so quickly that we’ll find the cure for cancer, invent those sick hoverboards from Back To The Future, and maybe even figure out how to find milk that just tastes like real milk.
We hold the entire repository of human knowledge in the palm of our hands, but it’s currently too big to fit in our brains. AI will be able to figure out what the important parts are, and then put it in a form that we can actually get through. Who knows, maybe somewhere in all that knowledge, we’ll figure out how to keep advancing, but still have some free time, simultaneously.
*R v Khan (22 November 1995, NSWSC).
**This is a very, very short summary of the history and concepts contained in Part Two of the book Sapiens; Harari, Y.N. 2011, 'Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution', Sapiens, HarperCollins Publishers, Broadway, New York, pp. 77-133.