Dear WSE community,
There is currently considerable public discourse about ChatGPT, an AI tool that can generate coherent, seemingly researched narrative responses when given a basic prompt. Other AI tools such as Midjourney can generate images—art, if you will. While these technologies are impressive, it’s also unsettling to realize how difficult it is to discern content generated by a computer from what previously required the human creative process.
There are legitimate concerns in academia about ChatGPT providing misinformation and students passing off AI-generated content as their own. But before we decide these tools threaten education and more, let’s pause to consider some of the amazing things these technologies can do and how we can harness them to improve teaching and learning.
My high school class was one of the first to skip the textbook chapter on how to use a slide rule as a result of the introduction of the four-function calculator. Concerns arose about whether calculators would replace students’ basic arithmetic skills and what it would mean if students were allowed to use them on tests. Similar fears are being expressed about ChatGPT.
Instead, calculators profoundly minimized rote learning, and as teachers embraced the technology, they were able to expand curricula and empower students to use higher-level analytical skills. Indeed, while the introduction of AI tools could result in some negative educational consequences, it is our job as educators to help students bridge the gap between using their own intelligence and responsibly enhancing their intellectual skills by utilizing AI.
ChatGPT can enable new opportunities across all disciplines. What gives AI its power are human-created algorithms leveraging data and data science. Partnering human intelligence and AI opens a world of possibilities. AI systems will themselves collect and generate new data on a scale never before conceived, enabling discovery at a pace we had not previously imagined.
In this issue, we explore how AI and data help fill in the blanks and map linguistics as we seek to address the issue of under-resourced languages, how fruit flies can help us understand the human mind, and how in something as familiar as a machine shop, experts use sophisticated tools to solve problems—as well as to create even more sophisticated tools. I hope you will join me in discovering how AI and data science can be used to help us expand knowledge, enhance our students’ education, and improve the world.
Benjamin T. Rome Dean