The rapid rise of ChatGPT has spawned equal proportions of hype, horror, and hope about the potential of artificial intelligence.
Here’s a sample of the surging headlines about AI from just one day, most triggered by the ChatGPT phenomenon (emphasis added):
- Experts warn AI likely to kill off jobs—and widen wealth inequality (The Guardian)
- Microsoft CEO says AI will create more jobs (CBS)
- 6 Jobs Artificial Intelligence Is Already Replacing… (Yahoo Finance)
- How Artificial Intelligence Can Boost Diversity & Inclusion (Forbes.com)
- Can Artificial Intelligence Help Detect Lung Cancer? (Healthline.com)
- And my favorite: “Can pigeons match wits with artificial intelligence?” (Science Daily)
ChatGPT, an AI application that allows machines to write and respond in uncannily humanlike ways, reached 100 million users in about two months. This makes it the fastest-growing app in history, according to a report from UBS cited by Reuters. The Swiss banking firm said TikTok took nine months to reach the same number of users; Instagram, two and a half years.
In short, ChatGPT and other AI tools are seemingly everywhere—and viewed as everything from a priceless gift to an existential threat.
Clearly, we’re still early in the “hype cycle” of both inflated expectations and fears. But this much we can be sure of: In a world increasingly driven by artificial intelligence, we’ll need humans at the wheel more than ever.
It would be far smarter to simply accept AI’s rise as a fact—and then spend that energy finding ways to integrate it into our lives in productive, positive ways.
History includes many cases in which tech creates as many occupations as it eliminates. What’s different this time is that the robots aren’t just on the factory floor—they’re headed for the front office, as AI systems overlap with the tasks now handled by accountants, lawyers, and other college-educated professionals.
The best move is to improve our ability to work with this technology. That means refocusing our educational efforts to better develop the skills to do the things that machines can’t do, the uniquely human stuff of imagination, creativity, empathy, and ethics.
Higher education finds itself at a crossroads here: On one side are concerns that students can easily order up robot-written papers. As EdSurge puts it, “ChatGPT Has Colleges in Emergency Mode to Shield Academic Integrity.”
But there’s also opportunity: Already, there’s an AI-powered program—the work of a senior at Princeton—to detect AI writing, which may signal the beginning of an arms race over academic honesty.
Robot-writing aside, AI offers the promise of digital assistants that can increase productivity in many fields. And in a world of interactions increasingly mediated by machines, the durable skills that define human contributions—creativity, empathy, and critical thinking, among others— become increasingly important.
Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to help students develop those skills through coursework on writing and communications, problem-solving in STEM applications, and other areas. These “durable” skills—a term I think is more accurate than “soft” skills—are some of the most in-demand among employers.
We can expect substantial changes—and no doubt, surprises—as this technology develops, but AI appears to hold great promise in promoting human welfare. It’s likely to play a role in our ability to navigate the next pandemic or predict natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. In one way or another, this technology will touch all our lives.
But disruptive change likely means a rough ride for many people. We owe it to ourselves and the nation to invest in those who are displaced, to provide the training to meet new talent needs.
There’s opportunity amid all this change, but even before the arrival of ChatGPT our education system faced a looming challenge in helping millions more people get the education needed for good jobs.
That’s a tall order that’s gotten even taller. So I asked ChatGPT itself for advice:
“Training people to work with artificial intelligence (AI) in the future will require a combination of technical knowledge and soft skills,” the system replied.
It added that training for careers in AI should include technical skills and data science, naturally, along with a penchant for continuous learning. But the machines, too, in their scouring of the vast data set used for ChatGPT, recommend emphasizing what we regard as human skills.
“As AI increasingly impacts society, it is important for individuals to have an understanding of ethical considerations and the potential for bias in AI systems,” the chatbot said.
“Collaboration and communication skills are essential for individuals working in AI, as they will need to work with a variety of stakeholders, including technical and non-technical teams, as well as customers and stakeholders.”
On that, we and the machines can agree.
This article was originally published in Forbes.