Artificial Intelligence—the capability of software or a bot to imitate or perform tasks historically requiring humans—has advanced over the years and continues to do so. In the higher education setting, some of its uses include self-learning applications and tutoring, in student Q&A chat rooms, and monitoring enrollment trends. But rather than view AI as a threat, those in the higher education field can leverage AI to complete tasks that do not require a person, leaving faculty and staff more time to have meaningful interactions with students in two-way dialogues that software or bots cannot perform.
What is AI and how is it used today?
There is a more basic level of AI employed in today’s business world. AI is used as chatbots, to spot trends in data and to relieve humans with tasks that are more manual in nature and take up valuable time that a real person could use more efficiently elsewhere. As currently developed and maybe indefinitely, they are not designed to replace faculty and staff at the higher education level. That may never happen since human interaction with students for example, in a give and take discussion, is hard to replicate with a bot.
In addition, there are different shades of Artificial Intelligence:
- Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI)/Narrow AI/Weak AI: This is the type of artificial intelligence commonly used now in a variety of applications and routine tasks. ANI aims to perform a specific task that would otherwise require a human. Sorting photos into categories by using facial recognition is one example. Significant progress is being made on the ANI level.
- Artificial General Intelligence: This refers to the hypothetical ability of an intelligent agent to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can. While this type of AI is envisioned as a bot that might look like and mimics a human, AGI is still a work in progress.
- Artificial Super Intelligence: ASI refers to the time when the capability of computers will surpass the collective intelligence of all the smartest humans. Currently, ASI is the stuff that only exists in movies and sci-fi novels.
Today, AI entails the capability of software or a bot to perform lower-level tasks that traditionally would require human intelligence. In the higher education realm, it is employed to provide tech support for example to students and staff. It is also used to analyze data—predicting future enrollment trends, possible issues with student housing, to detect security risks, cost increases and to pinpoint outages in specific buildings on campus. It is also widely used to detect plagiarism in a student’s written submissions and to monitor proctoring applications (according to EDUCAUSE). AI has come of age over the past five years in higher education scenarios and budget constraints (especially in the COVID era) has made AI more attractive for scaling and cost-benefit reasons.
Artificial Intelligence cannot do everything
AI cannot do “everything,” and, at this point, it doesn’t eliminate vital teaching jobs. It doesn’t replace professors and instructors. AI can provide faculty and staff with tools to augment what they are doing in a teaching environment. For this reason, it is not “dangerous,” a common misconception drawn from popular culture.
The facts are: Without attaining AGI/ASI human staff members must still be on standby to resolve what a bot cannot. Business, education and society may never get to the Artificial Super Intelligence level. Secondly, emotional intelligence is a major part of the student-teacher interaction (sympathy, empathy, etc.), which has not been supplanted by AI. Humans are still needed to support many functions for the current level of AI capability
While usage of AI in academic settings is scaling up as software programs become more sophisticated and intuitive, it is not a threat to the people that work on a campus or teach online. The opposite is true. AI can, especially after hours, resolve many of the routine queries that someone might enter into a chat. For example, when San Francisco State University launched an AI Chatbot as proof of concept to help support the IT Service Desk, there were almost 200 sessions in the very first week, especially after-hours and on the weekend when regular services were not available. Data showed about 70 percent of chats resulted in either the user getting the right pointer or resolution without needing further interaction—a classic example of expanding service with the existing staff.
Here to stay
Artificial Intelligence is here to stay in many professions and walks of life, including higher education. It is not going away. In fact, AI will become more sophisticated as time goes by. Look for more off-the-shelf products tailored to a particular task, perhaps written for the higher education environment to help produce routine reports for example.
If ever the Artificial General Intelligence and subsequently the Artificial Super Intelligence level is reached in an academic setting, it will still not replace faculty and teachers. Rather, it will free academicians and others involved in the learning process to invest more in students and provide a more in-depth and necessary educational experience. Think of it as acquiring more “bandwidth” for complex, difficult duties that need a human touch. AI-driven robots can assist in teaching and have narrow limited interactions with students but cannot take on the role of a faculty. In summary there’s no real reason for tenured professors and staff to worry about job security.
Srikanth Danapal is an Electronics Engineer with a Masters in Business Administration, based in Northern California. His expertise includes AI Chatbots, Mobile Apps and web template modernization. He is based at San Francisco State University, where he built an AI chatbot for IT support. For more information, please contact [email protected] or https://www.linkedin.com/in/srikanthdanapal
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