I got to thinking this morning that there are so many uninteresting conversations about AI taking place in higher education. I'm talking about the ones that are built around the question of how to tell if students are using AI. First off, the framing of wondering if students are using AI is a real snoozefest. I work with both faculty/staff and student learners, and let me tell you, students are not the only ones using AI in questionable ways. But anyway, I don't invest too much time, if any, in wondering about this, because at the end of the day, I can never, not ever, really know if someone has used AI. I can suspect the heck out of it, but the reality of this tool that we've created for ourselves is that we can never know if someone used it. Period!
Wondering, then, about whether someone used AI feels like a massive waste of time. It reminds me a heck of a lot of the years I spent trying to get an addict in my life sober. In recovery, we learn to stop investing our time in things over which we have no control. I'm coming up on seven years of sobriety. I'm not about to trade addiction to substances for addiction to wondering about who is using AI. Hard pass.
A more interesting question, I think, starts there, from the reality that we can never know. Isn't that what this AI frenzy is really about? It's about a bunch of people who work in a field that has told them over and over that if they study something hard enough they'll understand it. It's about these people realizing that this is not true of all things, and some days I wonder if it's true about anything.
Some things are not knowable. Some things are mysteries that we will never solve. Some things can only be felt, wished upon, or held, but never known. What is AI? Not that.
AI is the knowable on speed.
Does anyone else see the irony that the field of higher education, the field obsessed with studying and discovering the knowable, is now in a panic about AI, a tool that can instantaneously summarize all known knowledge on any given topic?
One of my running social media jokes goes something like this: Humans...the most intelligent species...according to...humans.
The word "intelligence" in "artificial intelligence" represents the intelligence that higher education has elevated to the status of god for the past six hundred years (give or take). It is the fruits of our actions. It is the reaping of what we've sown.
So a more interesting question than "Oh my God did my student use AI to write this?!" is "Now what?" Now that we've crashed into this mirror that's shining our words and deeds back at us, what are we going to do? Now that we have to face the unknowable, what's next?
This "intelligence" of ours is the same "intelligence" that has burned and continues to burn our home. We are the only species on this planet that does this. Beloveds, the real work begins when we recognize that we are not, in fact, the most intelligent species. That all of our smarts, whether natural or artificial, have gotten us right here, on the brink of an extinction that we've caused ourselves. That these big ass brains of ours and four quarters will get us a dollar.
Now, perhaps, we turn to other ways of knowing (ways of knowing celebrated and practiced by many Tribal, Indigenous, and other marginalized peoples): Bodies. Feelings. Sensations. Guts. Hearts. Energy. Plants. Animals. Fungi. Water. Air. To our connection to the natural world, of which we are a part and always have been. A connection that we've tried to ignore and murder but that will not die, that will persist as long as there is breath in any one human body.
What is AI? It's the fruit on the vine of the tree that we planted and watered while we tore every other tree from the ground and burned entire forests.
So now what?
Now that — that's a conversation about AI I'd like to have.
Blogging is back. Or never left. Better put, I'm back to blogging. I want a space of my own for my writing. I want and need to write more and more often. This is a space for my occasional thoughts and feels about higher ed, surviving our volatile era, and how to create things that matter.