AI overhyped

Reid Hoffman’s new book Impromptu is an exciting, effervescent idea. AI is your tool, your co-pilot, and thus is not at all threatening. It will take away the drudgery and make things better. The LinkedIn co-founder and board member of multiple silicon valley companies, most notably Microsoft, had access to GPT4 long before it was made public. He has had time to use it. Impromptu is subtitled Amplifying Humanity Through AI, and the hook is that he and GPT4 wrote the book together. He even made the book a free pdf download.

I was excited to pass on the link after quickly reading the introduction and the first chapter on Education. I was happy that he thought learning was so important in the landscape of AI applications.

But then I went back and read the chapter again.

He quotes and uses the stories of two educators, both well-regarded and with published articles on GPT. Professor Mintz integrated it into his classes to prepare students for discussion. Cherie Shields is a high school teacher who has become the face of K-12′ view on AI edtech. Both advise prudent use of GPT.

The problem comes when it gets down to specifics. The whole tone of the chapter reminds one of new edtech tools that will change the way you teach. Most telling is the output from GPT4, which borders on pablum, ad-speak with generalities. I’ve lost count of the number of times GPT used “personalized” and “customized”.

Someone call back Audrey Watters. Her take-downs of edtech promises in her blog (sadly abandoned last year) were legendary. Hack Education saw through the empty promises of so many tools like Blockchain, Google for Education, ClassDojo, MOOCs, and about 95 more.

GPT will invade many parts of our lives, and this book is a gentle cheerleader, with some sensible guidance. But it lacks any downside, any cost. It is not real. I came across this quote today on a topic completely different (gender) but the treatment of language resonated with me.

That’s what “newspeak” was: a language in which it becomes hard to understand something because the words describing it are too vague and abstract to mean anything recognizable; and, more worryingly, a language in which it becomes impossible to know something because the language itself has already excised the words needed to understand it. (Source: Andrew Sullivan)

So do read the book, but balance it with some other sustenance. This is pretty sweet.