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Philosophizing education amidst the white noise of AI and Chat GPT 

In an era increasingly dominated by technologism, artificial intelligence, Large Language Models, and platforms like Chat GPT, the question arises: How can educators maintain their roles as custodians of virtue and stewards of social ethics? This challenge is further compounded as educators themselves are becoming increasingly influenced by the very technologies they seek to navigate and integrate within the educational sphere.

As we continue our journey in this high-anxiety-plagued, prophetic and somewhat technological-poetic-mystical epoch called the post-Millenium of the post-informational age of the Internet of Things, in which we are serenaded by stories of the human and social consequences of technological determinism (as Karl Marx would put it) in which Artificial Intelligence is now heralded as yet another major Kuhnian Shift in human evolutions Harvard historian of science Thomas Kuhan once wrote about, as we see the ideology of technological fantasy ala the mystification of “Sofia-the-Saudi-citizened-robot flirts with human intelligence as such as Beauty courting the Beast in all of us, we educators are forced to consider previewing the prospects of “being human in an increasingly digital world”.  

I lament in the following paragraphs how we must continue to see these megatrends and “future shocks (borrowing the words of futurist Alvin Toffler in the seventies,) shrinking the definition of what it means to be human and how education and schooling as a conveyor belt if social reproduction will continue to be drowned in the waves of interplay between being human and being digital. 

Ways of seeing 

Conflicts theorists, among which Critical Theorists and neo- or post-Marxists come into the paradigm of looking at this critical juncture in our development as “conscious beings in the world of technological determinism, have and continue to ask the question of the role of philosophy of education as our guide in this journey. If philosophy means the “love for wisdom” and “education” means the enterprise for “drawing out” our potentials within, what must philosophy of education mean in this yet another Kuhnian shift in learning and teaching?  

Must technological determinism be made to engineer uncritically our forward march towards becoming “one dimensional” as American sociologist Herbert Marcuse would say, adding the final victory of the march of advanced post-industrial capitalism which is taking its character as virtual capitalism? In what ways must a humanistic dimension of learning be made to continue to be relevant in our age wherein education is forced to coexist in a technological mode of operation? 

Philosopher Charles Taylor suggested that we need not be neither “boosters of knockers” of technology in this age of technological hypism but rather journey through this age of change, complexity, and chaos, as Toffler would term it, in search of our horizons of significance to reach a destination called “authenticity” so that we may live our lives with the “ethics of authenticity,” . If we are to take seriously the socio-philosophical suggestion that the professionalism and technologization of our lives have fragmented the meaning of authentic and progressive individualism, we ought to conceive this century and beyond as one in which this authenticity and progressivism must be reclaimed.

This task entails a new conception; that being digital and being human may not be a contradiction but a juxtaposition of the condition of “being and becoming” in the (Jean Paul-) Sartrean sense (Hans-Georg) Gadamarian in nature and (Paulo) Freirean in its view. These names I allude to are of those who have written about society from the Critical Theory perspective analyzing the anatomy and physics of capitalism as a culture that creates contradictions as it advances from one stage to another, and as technology fuels its engine of unilinear progress.  

Thesis of the technologists 

Boosters of technologism, reflective and illustrative in perhaps the writings of MIT Media Lab’s “techno-gurus” of early days of the development of digital culture and production of its artifacts, scholars such as  Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Pappert, have hailed the 21st century and beyond as one in which technology will “liberate us from the mundaneness of everyday lives” and one in which digital technology will dominate and dictate the way we live, work, play and perhaps too, how we make our own history. These boosters are situating our condition of being and learning within a postmodern scenario in which the fantasy is to launch the self into the virtual realm – a life to be lived primarily “on the screen”. Consider today’s advancement of AI and its prodigal child the Chat GPT and how the LLM (Large-Language-Model) ideology will continue to give birth to the ideology of the “leisurely life”, in which prompt engineering will be a highly-valued skilled the hard work and grit of one’s path to personal and social success.

Anti-thesis to technologism

Post-informational capitalism will continue to push this ideology of technological fantasy, while behind the scene and this smokescreen of technological progress lies the story of the matrix of human misery, rapid unemployment of millions, and obsolescence of knowledge and skills of what is learned at the moment in time of the push for more democratization of AI and robotics in our daily lives.  

Knockers of technologism, reflective and illustrative in perhaps the writing of Neil Postman, Max Horkheimer, and those from schools of thought such as The Frankfurt School of Social Research have cautioned us on the alienating potentials of technologism and the political-economic context of technological determinism and how the ideology embedded in it can shake our axiological desire to not become dehumanized. These knockers of technology, perhaps having their historical inspiration in the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution will continue to caution on the digital tools we are given that will determine (or devastate) the way we live, work, play and make our own history. 

The educators’ dilemma  

If we or educators are to journey together with those who are entrusted to educate, develop and liberate, how then must we make such a choice? Must we download information onto the minds of the children of Anatole France or ought we, as a guide on the side, let them make neural connections on their own – like patterns in a Mandelbrot set? In a world wherein the physical and virtual is increasingly becoming borderless, such a Kuhnian shift in the way we view “philos”, “sofia” and “educare” must uncompromisingly be conceived. Herein lies the prospects of constructivism. 

From the age of the Sophists to chaos theorists, educational philosophy has come to be packaged in many names: perennialism, essentialism, social reconstructionism, romanticism, progressivism, technologism, and variants and hybrids of these. Within these the will to be human and the desire to master techniques are embodied. The essential tension lies in the trading offs of the concepts of Grand and subaltern narratives; the degree and amount of information to be passed down by teachers for cultural continuity and the freedom given to learners to construct knowledge and manipulate information based upon their “lived” experience. Inherent in the idea of constructivism is the greater (if not the greatest) degree of freedom in making neural connections in their three-pound universe so that they can invert realities, become makers of their own history and not be coerced into living by the dominant idea of the epoch and participate in the ideological production of those possessing the political, economic, cultural and informational capital. 

Philosophizing moment  

Drawn from advances in research from cognitive science (brain laterality, question mechanics, artificial intelligence), humanistic psychology, and reflective sociology theme, constructivism is promising to be praxical (of ‘praxis’ or theory and practice in unity) in character and sustainable in its promise to deal with teaching and learning in the Post-Information Age. It can be conceived to be super structurally Socratic, Piagetian, Freirian, and Deweyian in pedagogy and one in which may promise to “check and balance” the super structuralism of technological hypism. If one is to draw a metaphor for constructivism, it could one be in which the dialogue between Socrates and Meno in a cyber-cave in cyberspace! 

If one is to draw a metaphor for a model of teaching, it could be one if and inverted triangle of which the Platonic and Confucian model is replaced with the Einsteinian model. Perhaps too, if one is to build a scenario of the shape of societies to come with Constructivism as a guiding paradigm, we ought to conceive the emergence not only of personalistic, post-industrial selves engaging in information processing, manipulating and creating activities in a world entirely borderless but perhaps interestingly too the emergence of post-industrial tribes existing in cyber principalities loosely controlled by cybernation-states (withered by digital technologies they allowed themselves to be structured by!). 

And next? 

What then would be the implications and policy recommendation related to such a conception of change in the manner we perceive philosophy of education? How do we educators continue to see ourselves as managers of virtue and guardians of social ethics as we too become hegemonized by the culture of technologism, of AI, of LLM, and of Chat GPT?  

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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