A metaphysical discussion
Higher education is facing unprecedented decreases in enrollment, and therefore revenue, brought about by demographics and a loss of confidence that a college degree is the key to the American Dream. Major structural changes are likely to occur in the next decade. Further, and in addition to all the stressors currently impacting the higher education sector, we are apparently facing a ‘new’ challenge, Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The crisis seems to have been precipitated by the advent of recent developments in the field of AI and abetted, of course, by several slow media days. And the burgeoning crisis feel of AI plays to the sense of impending doom which seems to possess us all in this post-Covid era.
Although the “crisis” has been precipitated by real developments and the media hype surrounding some of its “behaviors”, to be clear, this “crisis” has been developing for several years. Massive transition to automated systems in record keeping and retrieval as well as in accounting and communication have occurred largely un-noticed by the general public. Even transportation and manufacturing have been “chipped”. And while the burgeoning of AI was the inevitable denouement of these trends, the grave vulnerabilities to humankind were largely ignored.
There are three areas under the rubric of AI which demand analysis and thought. Is AI good or evil? What is the impact of AI on “truth”? What is the impact of AI on higher education?
T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest poet of the 20th century, wrote:
“However you disguise it, this does not change: The perpetual struggle of good and evil.”
However reluctant is the modern woman or man to sound metaphysical, the burgeoning of AI will demand that we examine its potential for good and for evil. In shorthand:
AI + Good = a boon for humankind AI + Evil = apocalypse
AI will re-focus the eternal discussions about free will, about human intention, volition, and agency. Suffice to say at this point that AI, in and of itself, is unlikely to hate or to foment, except as it may fall into the hands of the archetypal evil which is, apparently, inherent in us all. Harnessed for good, it has the potential to greatly improve the human condition. But harnessed it must be, and quickly by the good people among us.
In general, human beings have been able to assess truth or falsehood by common sense. AI in the hands of evildoers could make it impossible to distinguish truth from lies. Formal methods such as the “scientific method”, the jury trial and double-blind experiments could easily be thwarted by AI in the hands of unethical individuals. One common sense definition of truth is verisimilitude, the fidelity to things as they actually are. AI could easily undermine that definition by flooding the world with spurious verisimilitude.
For fifty and more years the higher education establishment has sold college as the singular tool for the achievement of the American Dream. Go to college, you will not have to work outside, you will not get calloused hands, you will become part of the bourgeoisie. This sales job has been remarkably successful, abetted by the government and the media. In an ironic turn of events AI has as its most ready target that very class of workers: accountants, analysists, and scriveners. Roofers and plumbers are relatively immune from the threat AI poses to their livelihood. A university education has been the summum bonum of American youth for several generations, on a collision course with a “chipped” world, creating the potential for disruption and chaos. The value equation for Higher Education is already being questioned. AI will do nothing but exacerbate this vulnerability.
In summary, AI will multiply the threats currently harassing Higher Education. It behooves the higher education establishment to recognize this threat as it seeks to survive in this new world. Incremental change will not suffice against this new threat. Only startling comprehensive change can preserve what, in fact, has been a great resource for humankind.
Addressing this additional challenge will require savvy, calm, thoughtfulness, planning, and…often, strategic partnerships. The kind of partnerships that SPH Consulting Group specializes in. Let us help you navigate today’s increasingly choppy waters.
To learn more about SPH Consulting Group and how we can help your organization, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer: Lloyd A. Jacobs, Sr. Consultant, SPH Consulting Group.
© SPH Consulting Group 2023