AI is making us lazy

Pim Haselager: “AI is making us lazy.”

According to Pim Haselager, Radboud University Professor of Societal Implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the arrival of AI poses a new set of questions and challenges for the educational world. “What is the role of critical thinking? How can we keep learning from each other? And is technology making us more effective, or does it make us lazier? AI is also asking us a question: which way do we want to go with our education?”

“I think we are not yet using digitisation to its full potential”, says Pim. Pim started teaching Cognitive Science at Radboud University in 1990. In 2004, that educational program became Artificial Intelligence. “AI isn’t the first example of digitisation in education. Back in the 1980s, I researched e-mail, which had a big effect on scientists' collaborations. So did the Internet, for that matter. Soon after came the smartphones, and suddenly, you took your work or study collaborations home with you. Now, with apps like Telegram, students can quickly share things among themselves. And that has its positives and negatives.”

During the pandemic, developments went into overdrive: “Software programmes for taking exams were rapidly emerging, stress bots for students arrived, and meetings changed dramatically. And now there is ChatGPT, which more and more students are using. These are all things we are only just beginning to think about. What effects will they have on education?”

Learning from each other

“By looking at learning curves and interests of individual students, you get a picture of what they are good at, what they find difficult, and what their learning pace is.” One of the most promising opportunities AI can have for education? Personalised learning, according to Pim. “Here, AI can work as an extension of the teacher: by analysing students' personal preferences and learning styles, we can create a more differentiated educational offering, matching students' personal learning styles. That way, AI can be an extra helping hand.”

But we must also remain critical, Pim believes. “Students learn a lot from each other. When I tell my story, everyone gets a different message out of it. Students must continue to share those findings with each other. That's how you maintain constructive learning. The social component of learning together, like simply talking to each other during a break in class, is an important part of the learning process.”

Does AI make us lazy?

For Pim, the arrival of AI so far is not yet a revolution for education. But it does evoke new thoughts: “Which way do we want to go with our education? This is difficult to answer generally, but at universities, it is important that people discover interesting problems. Insight and thinking for yourself are very important in scientific research. I wonder whether AI might not be counterproductive in this respect.”

With AI, we will outsource more and more of our personal thinking. You can ask AI a question, and the answer will be formulated for you. “That makes us lazy”, thinks Pim. “Writing and science depend essentially on thinking for yourself. Your ideas and your point of view: that's what society needs. If we outsource all our critical thinking and writing to a chatbot from now on, it makes us less individual.”

An educational shift

“People are quick to use the efficiency argument. That is all well and good, but are we also improving quality? That hasn't been proven yet. Therefore, we have decided not to fully embrace the AI trend yet. Above all, we need to think carefully about what we want to teach students. That may shift. For instance, calculators have taken away some of our mathematical thinking skills. With the advent of AI, we will see another such shift.”

ChatGPT has significantly impacted students, which has implications for education. “For example, you no longer know whether an essay was written by a student or by ChatGPT. That's why I personally switched back to oral exams. That way, you can ask direct questions and ensure students' opinions come to the fore. The interesting and paradoxical thing about AI technology is that it brings us back to a very basic method of still exchanging individual opinions.”

Thinking critically about AI

The future of AI and education? According to Pim, it is going to be an important battle. After all, educators need to keep a grip on the software they use. “Take Microsoft Teams, for example. It's a fine, secure way to outsource online meetings. But when it comes to content-based learning tools, it is important to look at them critically: under what conditions do we use them? AI also needs such an education-wide discussion.”

Critical thinking remains the most important thing. ”You don't become a better driver in a self-driving car, do you? We need to think about AI in education: do we keep people actively engaged? What do we want students to continue learning, and how? Of course, we shouldn't be too fearful of AI either, but it's okay to open a discussion and ask questions about the usefulness of certain possibilities. Just because it can be done doesn't always mean it has to be done. And honestly, when you will think back to your student days, it won’t be the ChatGPT that you will remember fondly, but rather a few inspiring presentations or lecturers, and the crazy but beautiful ideas you yourself came up with.”