How should one think about learning in the age of AI?
That is, if you are a student in a class today, how can you use AI to make your experience of being a student better?
- Use AI to create work, but learn how to work with it to make it better: In my experience of having spoken with people about AI, it has been a bit of a bi-modal distribution. There are folks (and I’m very much one of them) who think of ChatGPT as a fantastic tool whose potential to be useful is only going to grow over time. And there are folks who triumphantly assert that AI simply isn’t good enough, citing examples of hallucinations, not-good-enough answers or sub-standard essays. All of these arguments are good arguments against AI, but the last one in particular can be easily overcome by providing better prompts, and by suggesting improvements. “Write a seven paragraph essay on India’s economic reforms of 1991” is a barely acceptable prompt to give it, for example. Mention specific people, events and dates that you might want it to mention in the essay, ask it to revise certain paragraphs in the essay, ask it to write “like” a certain person, mention the conclusion you would like it to reach – spend time with it to make it better.
All of my suggestions – and this is important! – require the student to know enough about the topic to be able to make these suggestions. You need to think about the prompt, you need to critically evaluate the first-pass answer, and you need to know enough to suggest suitable improvements. AI can take away the drudgery associated with polishing an essay, but it will still (so far) require you to know what you’re talking about. A student’s life is much more interesting today, rather than easier.
- Ask it to teach you stuff you didn’t understand: Small class sizes aren’t really a feature of most Indian colleges, in my experience. The idea that you will have five to ten students in class, and will therefore be able to have meaningful, extensive discussions about your doubts in class is a far fetched one in most Indian colleges. So treat AI as a very helpful research assistant who will be able to explain to you your doubts about a particular topic. This can very quickly become too addictive a practice, because the AI will be able to carry out a much more detailed conversation about literally any topic you can think of than most (all?) of your peers. Converse with humans about your conversations with AI, and figure out a ratio that works for you. But corner solutions (of both kinds) are almost certainly sub-optimal.
- Check it’s “facts”: You will run into trouble if you accept it’s output as the gospel truth. It asserts facts that simply don’t exist, it will cite papers that it has made up on the spot and it will confidently tell you about books that were never written by people who’ve never existed. It is not about to replace search engines – in fact, search engines have become more useful since the launch of ChatGPT, not less.
- Use specialized AI tools: Of which there are hundreds, if not thousands. You can use AI to cite papers (Scite.ai), to design presentations (beautiful.ai), create simple animations (look it up) and so much more besides. Don’t restrict yourself to any one tool, and learn how to get better at improving all aspects of your workflow.
- Document your work with AI, and make it public: Create a very public repository of work that you have created with AI, and share how you’ve become better at working with AI. Your career depends on your ability to do this, and on your ability to teach other people to do this – so the more the evidence regarding this is in your favor, the stronger your argument for your own career. Begin early, and don’t be shy about showing the world what you’ve done, and how good a worker you are with AI by your side.