Chat Je Pétais

Over on the elearnspace blog, George — I’m assuming it’s George — makes the following observation in This Time is Different. Part 1.: “I’m writing a series on the threat higher education faces and why I think it’s future is one of substantive, dramatic, and systemic changes. However, it’s not AI. There are a range of factors related to the core of what educators do: discover, create, and share knowledge. AI is part of it – and in the future may be the entirety of it. Short term, however, there are other urgent factors.

I’ve increasingly been thinking about the whole “discover, create, share” thing in a different context over the last year or so, in the context of traditional stroytelling.

I now spend much of my free-play screen time trawling the looking for 19th century folk tale and fairy tale collections, or searching dismally OCR’d 19th newspapers in the British newspapers archive (I would contribute my text corrections back, but in the British newspaper archive at least, the editor sucks and it would take forever; it’s not hard to imagine a karaoke display with that tries to highlight each word in turn to prompt you to read the text aloud, then use to tunr that into text, but as it is, you get arbitrarily chunked smally collections of words with their own edit box that take forever to update separately. The intention is obviously to improve the OCR training, not allow readers who who have transcribed the whole to paste some properly searchable text in and then let the machine have a go at text alignment.)

So for me, text related online discovery now largely relates to discovery within 19th century texts, creating is largely around trying to pull stories together, or sequences of stories that work together, and sharing is telling stories in folk clubs and storytelling gigs. As to sharing knowledge, the stories are, of course, all true…

I’ve also played with ChatGPT a little bit, and it’s a time waster for me. It’s a game as you try to refine the prompt to generate answers of substance, every claim of fact requires fact checking, and whilst the argumentation appears reasonable at a glance, it doesn’t always follow. The output is, on the surface, compelling and plausible, and is generated for you to read without you having to thing too much about it. I realise now whey Socratic dialogue as a mode of learning gets a hard press: the learner doesn’t really have to do much og the hard learning work, where you have to force your own brain circuits to generate sentences, and rewire those bits of your head that make you say things that don’t make sense, or spout ungrounded opinions, à la Chat je pétais.

In passing, via the tweets, All my classes suddenly became AI classes and the following policy for using chatGPT in an educational setting:

Elsewhere, I note that I should probably be following Jackie Gerstein via my feeds…

Dave Cormier also shares a beuaifully rich observation to ponder upon — ChatGPT as “autotune for knowledge”. And Simon Willison shares a handy guide to improving fart prompts from the Cookbook — Techniques to improve reliability — because any prompts you do use naively are just that.

I hate and resent digital technology more and more every day.

And though trying to sell tickets to oral culture events, I am starting to realise how many people are digitally excluded, don’t have ready internet access, can’t buy things online, and don’t discover things online. And I would rather spend my time in their world than this digital one. Giving up would be a shame, but I have no trouble finding books in second hand bookshops, even if they do cost a bit more.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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