Degrees of Doubt in the Age of AI 

QUT students have expressed concerns over the use and worth of their degrees with all the developments in the capability of AI with platforms like ChatGPT. 

Many students have been plagued by doubts that the money they are spending on a degree is becoming a waste. 

An anonymous post to Glassies Facebook Group prompted this article with stresses over losing their job to a ‘dumb little AI’. 

AI has been around for years, the earliest forms of AI assistants like Siri and Alexa popped up in 2011.  

So, what has changed in recent months? 

The main cause for the uproar is ChatGPT became free and accessible to the general public in November 2022 – ever so conveniently after most assessment due dates last year. *insert eye roll here*   

Meaning students and professionals alike are able to access a high-end AI that is capable of essay writing and producing “research”.  

Canva has also made huge developments on the visual front – with new features that can generate whole artworks or edit images comparable to photo editing on Photoshop.  

Recent media coverage on the matter has discussed the ability to cheat on assessments with AI and AI detection software. 

The Group of Eight deputy chief executive, Dr Matthew Brown told The Guardian that the eight universities have revised how they will run assessments in 2023, including supervised exams, greater use of pen and paper exams and tests, and tests only for units with low integrity risks. 

But students are almost as fearful as they were during the beginnings of AI: 

Is AI going to steal my job? 

So, is AI currently able to do my work? 

This is the question on everyone’s mind.  

Moreso, as current students, because it feels like we can nip being unemployable in the bud and change degrees – and save ourselves from wasted HECS-HELP debt. 

The rapid change in capability and availability of AI has laid a thick blanket of doubt on students.  

The impression is that with AI being easily accessible and free, why would employers hire an expensive human being? 

Many researchers and academics have commented on this growing trend of AI with differing views – some providing soothing comfort for those stressed and others warning of immense change. 

QUT Associate Professor of Computer Science Laurianne Sitbon said AI-supported jobs will mean that there will be more collaboration between employees and systems, as people will need to have oversight of AI outputs, for example filtering for truth and bias. 

“This will provide future employees and entrepreneurs the opportunity to focus more on the humans, less on outputs that can otherwise be automatically generated.” 

Sitborn said human beings will be kept in business for a bit longer because most jobs require communication and connection to other people, either through teamwork or connection with stakeholders, which is what makes work fulfilling. 

Fellow at the MIT Connection Science Institute Douglas Kim told IEEE Spectrum it would be difficult to protect data privacy in heavily regulated industry sectors and prevent discrimination or defamation. 

“In these regulated sectors, you can’t have AI make the sort of mistakes that are passable when writing a school paper.”  

“It is not yet ready for general use by hundreds of millions of workers as being suggested,” said Kim. 

Hod Lipson, an artificial intelligence specialist scientist at Columbia University, told Vanity Fair AI produces artworks, like a human, the computer too is producing output based on what it has experienced. 

QUT Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Dr Rohan Wilson said the disruption from AI is going to be profound for writers.

“There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the text generated by AI will be good enough to replace many low-effort or time-consuming tasks like writing emails, generating content for corporate websites, creating communications material such as brochures and catalogues, and creating social media posts. It’s certainly possible that companies hire fewer staff, thanks to the productivity gains these tools create. 

“The good news is that AI text generators are still just a tool. AI content is often full of errors and inconsistencies. It’s a very poor substitute for human creativity, humour, instinct, experience, and emotion.  

“If AI tools can make it easier to write, then it will free up artists to be more creative and adventurous. 

“In the publishing industry, it’s highly unlikely that AI content will ever replace authors. Very few people would be willing to pay for a book written by AI. We read because we want a connection with other people. Publishers in Australia understand this. They won’t risk their reputations by publishing low-quality, robotic, insincere writing. 

So, is university worth it then? 

Sitborn said job-ready skills are not the only thing that university exists for, and not the flagship of what any university should deliver to your education. 

“While AI will certainly affect most jobs, the good news is that uni is not preparing for “a job” but supports students to understand a domain of activity and to think critically and creatively within this domain,” said Sitborn.  

“Uni is making you job ready for all the turns and twists of your career, by developing your way of thinking about complex problems, managing knowledge and resources to deliver projects, and amplifying your creative abilities.   

QUT provided the following statement to Glass: 

“Developments in Artificial Intelligence are moving quickly as can be seen in the recent discussions on the use of generative AI in a number of fields. Experts don’t agree on exactly what the future holds except that things will change. QUT offers more than 150 different degrees so the pace of change and impact in some disciplines will be different to others. 

 All degrees are developed to build a range of core skills and knowledge, some discipline specific and others transdisciplinary to prepare graduates for not only their first role but for overall career development.   As can be seen by the position we have taken on academic integrity and artificial intelligence to date, we are encouraging all areas to consider how best to use artificial intelligence in university work and prepare our graduates for how it will be used in their chosen fields.    We encourage students to actively engage in these discussions with their lecturers and academic advisors and stay abreast of the discussions in relevant professional bodies.” 

So, what do students at QUT think? 

So, what is the outcome? 

It is hard to say. That’s the only way to put it. 

Many are likening the development of AI to the internet and computers, and we all know how that has turned out. 

The internet and computers revolutionised the jobs and careers and while some jobs were made redundant – many more were created. 

Change is coming. That is the only definite answer there is. How much change is still yet unknown.  

The only comforting question is how long will this change take? Many speculate a while. 

So, take a moment and if you are still anxious just breatheeeeeee… and then ask ChatGPT how to reduce anxiety. 

It’s scarily helpful.  

Ben Steele
Ben Steele
Articles: 30

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