Reflecting on the newest installment of the Speakers Series: panel discussion on AI

Reflecting on the newest installment of the Speakers Series: panel discussion on AI

The event that took place on 15 May was an absolute success, with our School Center for Education and the Arts brimming with questions concerning the potential of AI, its capabilities, and impact on society as we know it. With the Speakers Series now in its 22nd year running, read on for the key takeaways from last night’s discussion, sharing with you some of the core pieces of knowledge imparted from our diverse panel.

Our newest installment of the Speakers Series was engaging and thought-provoking. Facilitating the event was Nadjib Aktouf, Director of Technology at ASL—joined by a panel of amazing speakers with both industry expertise and personal experience to share with one another and the audience. The topic of AI has permeated the news and ignited discussion and debate, and our student-ran publications are no exception. The Scroll and The Standard have both published their own takes on ChatGTP and the fast progression of AI, featuring perspectives that are of great use to educators and learners alike.

Students Campbell ‘23 and Edward ‘24 were important contributors to this panel discussion, giving insight into the younger generation and future leaders’ feelings towards this life-altering technology. With Campbell ‘23 being a confirmed student at Yale University next fall, and Edward ‘24 with a passion for machine learning, gaming and programming, our industry-involved panelists had a lot to answer to. As well as two of our own students, the panel consisted of:

  • Tonik Barber, graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Law School, and CEO of AkasuAI. Currently writing a book focused on the ethics of AI and the threat of narrowing human thought and expression, Tonik had a myriad of wisdom to share in this discussion. 

  • Ari Weinstein, ASL parent and Software Engineering Manager at Apple, his CV also features stints at Google and Amazon! Ari was able to offer thoughts from a tech-industry standpoint, and more personally, as a parent.

  • Livia Poloto (ASL 2015-present), department head of computer science! Livia described her stance as excited to see what the future holds for machine learning, while also being aware of AI’s limitations from a curricular viewpoint.

  • Francesco Tamburrino, our current Innovator-in-Residence, Head of Software, Applications and AI at Engineered Arts, and mentor of the ASL First Robotics Competition robotics team.

  • Chris Wolf (ASL 2014-present), one of our very own social studies teachers, with a key focus on philosophy, ethics and implications of AI

The current state of AI technology

Nadjib Aktouf broke the event down into 3 core categories of discussion; the current state of AI, use of AI in education and learning, AI use in everyday lives. The definition of AI itself can be hard to pin down for those outside of its creators and those who work alongside it. Ari Weinstein went on to offer a positive and hopeful outlook on artificial intelligence and the accessibility surrounding it: 

“The amazing thing about AI right now is the speed of its progress. 15 years ago, when I was in school, we had some forms of machine learning, but these chatbots now seem to know so much more. It feels accessible and tangible—you don’t need to be a programmer or expert”

Tonik emphasized the presence of AI and asked the audience how many had been asked by Google to select images of a traffic light to confirm their humanness, stating that “we are directly involved in AI development, whether we know it or not”. With AI market investment predicted to hit £11 trillion in 2030, AI buzzwords are featured in media more than ever before—but why? Ari Weinstein suggests that it's down to the ways that AI can help in everyday life, the excitement of the tech’s flexibility and potential being everywhere.

In terms of art, creative and academic writing, Francesco explains that “what’s happening now is that these systems are doing things that we once thought only humans could do”. This very strange, sci-fi situation has hit us hard as a society, and the realization that the wall between what makes something human or machine is thinning is quite a scary idea.

Introducing education into the conversation

How will AI change the way we will learn and teach? Campbell ‘23 offers her own perspective, “I view it as an amazing tool. It could create a study guide for you, or even more broadly help level the playing field and allow less advantaged students avoid needing to pay for a tutor.”

Edward ‘24 likens the future of AI to the humble beginnings of the calculator in academia—explaining that there’s a big difference between using a tool, and cheating. Livia explains how she’s been using ChatGTP to plan some of her lessons and that it's been very interesting, playing the role of a somewhat team member for her. In terms of plagiarism, Tonik’s personal feeling is that it comes down to a discussion of academic honesty and intention is key. 

What skills do we need in order to use AI effectively and efficiently?

The right kind of input is paramount when looking for useful AI output. Does this mean fundamental writing skills, and asking the right questions is necessary to use AI to its full potential? Edward 23’ disagrees with this, highlighting that a simple prompt can be used in turn by the AI to create more complex prompts. The more that this technology develops, prompt engineering will become less important. Instead, a crucial skill will be deciphering if AI output is fact, or nonsense. 

As time goes on, it will be the norm for white collar jobs to utilize AI tech, and it falls on the shoulders of educators to prepare students for this. Both teachers and students should focus on figuring out AI together, encouraging the incorporation of it into academia rather than avoiding it.

What ethical considerations do we see with AI?

The education sector, much like the rest of society, has been blindsided by such fast developments. Francesco stresses the need to adapt. Looking forward to the future, there are many uncertainties—but change is inevitable and this is a great opportunity for ASL and other schools to be a pioneer in this sphere.

When discussing the question of ethics and potential cyber-disasters, Edward 24’ describes it as fear-mongering and misunderstanding. Ari makes a profound statement on this, stating that “it all goes back to education and critical thinking. Everything you hear is false until it can be proven as true, and skepticism is key. These fears aren’t necessarily new, there must be hyper-vigilance in maintaining truth”. Francesco agrees that AI is developing, for sure, but so is software that will protect us from its darker capabilities, going on to explain AI guardrails and its use of ensuring accuracy, appropriateness and security. 

Questioning AI and learning together is key, and as a society, we need to challenge ourselves and continue these discussions. Nadjib then turned to the audience, and welcomed any questions that attendees had for the panel, in a Q&A format. A question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind, and opened the door for even more discussion, was one audience member’s inquiry into AI and its use within creative fields—will humans eventually become obsolete in these industries? Both Tonik and Livia agreed that we, as human beings, need to embrace these new tools. Humans are renowned for experiencing a fear of the unknown, and the only way to combat this fear is through learning. 

It was unanimous that technology such as ChatGTP should be used in creative fields as a reference, and not as a sole source. The use of AI in art and writing-based professions poses even more questions on whether AI-generated content even constitutes art—highlighting concerns of copyright law that we don’t have the answers to just yet. The evening was inspiring, and raised more questions than it answered. The dialogue that took place offered us a glimpse into what the future holds for education and the workforce, highlighting the importance of embracing innovation, while also remaining vigilant about ethical implications.

As the audience departed from the School Center, conversation between attendees was buzzing, and it was clear that the panel had introduced some fresh perspectives. There is no doubt that education as we know it will be changed forever by the development of AI—it’s up to us to ensure we harness its power instead of running in fear!