Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Will Machine Learning Make Us Less Intelligent?

If you are wondering whether I used AI to write this blog post, the answer is no. This will soon become obvious since no respectable AI program would go off on tangents as much as I do.

Having graded many undergraduate student essays, it is very disheartening to know that students can now ask a computer program to write a full essay for them on just about any topic in a matter of minutes. Will this new machine learning craze fundamentally change the next generation’s ability to do basic, fundamental research and writing?

My gut instinct is that it will. I recently saw an interview with a high school student about the use of ChatGPT to write class essays. The student compared it to using a calculator and made the argument that it isn’t really cheating—it’s just utilizing an available tool to get the task done more efficiently. I could not help but smile when I heard this argument. My first thought was, “That kid will probably become an attorney.”

But is AI just a harmless tool to make us more efficient? Take, for example, my own use of technology. When I was young, I was very good at math—likely a result of my parents getting me lots of flash cards. When I got my first calculator and no longer had to use my brain, my math skills dramatically decreased. Or consider how I write. During my senior year of high school, we started to write our essays on a computer rather than by hand. I soon noticed that I was relying more and more on spelling and grammar checks from the computer instead of taking the time to think through my writing. To this day, if I have something important to write where my words matter, I still write by hand. To bring myself back from one of those tangents that I mentioned earlier, my point here is that being able to do something faster does not always equate to increased value over the long term.

You may be asking yourself how this all ties into entrepreneurship. In my experience, a company’s true value often comes from the collective knowledge and skills of the people that work there rather than a specific product or process. Take Apple for example. Yes, the products are what drive the company, but history tells us that the people behind the products are what made that company successful. Do you really want your company to have to rely on expensive AI software for everything? And yes, it will get expensive in some form or another even if it is not strictly a monetary cost – think free search engines that track all your data.

Maybe machine learning will be the disruptor that provides a new competitive advantage for entrepreneurs. But if history tells us anything, there is a good chance that the real competitive advantage in the future may come from having employees that still know how to do tasks using their own intelligence.

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