Existential threat: Students worry AI will replace their skills and knowledge

61% of students believe AI will replace the skills and knowledge they learn in college, according to Momentive.

Artificial intelligence is unavoidable on today’s college campuses, and its proximity to higher education is only getting closer. While first scrambling to come to grips with the technology, it has catalyzed multiple partnerships and revamped college curricula. However, the existential crisis that some professionals have warned AI will dole to humanity is now leaking into higher education alongside its embrace. Specifically, among its students.

A report by Momentive, an experience management company, found that while students support AI’s usage in the classroom, it renders their knowledge and critical thinking skills obsolete and will chip away from their post-college prospects.

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“Momentive Study: AI in education” found that 71% of students have used AI software, such as ChatGPT, in the past six months. The majority tend to use it daily or weekly (38%) compared to those who have only used it a few times (33%). The kind of work students are most interested in using AI for is research (42%), helping complete assignments (42%) and summarize reading assignments (40%). More than 70% of students support using AI for schoolwork, and in five years, 78% believe it will play a more significant role in their education.

As much as students claim to support the use of AI, they can’t seem to agree on whether AI will positively or negatively impact higher education. The majority are neutral on its effect (38%), followed by positive (35%) and negative (28%). Similarly, students are split on whether it will create a more equitable environment for learning.

However, students can agree on a few less-positive implications of the technology. Half (50%) of undergraduate college students expect AI to reduce the number of opportunities available to them after college. This is because 61% of students believe AI will replace the skills and knowledge they learn in college.

The degree to which students believe AI can outperform their mental processes might help explain why the majority believe it hinders their critical thinking skills (55%). On the other hand, the legwork that AI will be able to get done will actually boost students’ and professors’ ability to focus on higher forms of critical thinking.

“With AI, we can automate the lower end of the cognitive domain, and I say, ‘Thank GOD,’” said American technology futurist Daniel Burrus. “We’re going to free teachers to teach the stuff they wanted to get to in the first place—the higher levels of the cognitive domain. There’s room for us all. This is the time for a revolution.”

AI in leadership

While most students believe their school is doing just enough to keep up with the advancement of AI (56%), students reported that their professors’ actions aren’t reflecting that. Specifically, 66% of professors have chosen to ignore or ban AI in the classroom.

Students are torn about whether AI can teach subject matter better or worse than a professor, with 35% saying better and 34% saying worse. One study recently discovered that college professors face the highest exposure to the capabilities of AI.

On a broader level

Earlier this month, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company responsible for ChatGPT and GPT-4, testified on artificial intelligence in a Senate committee. As much innovation the technology has the potential to provide for the world, he believes it’s essential that models “above a threshold of capabilities” should face government regulation. “We think it can be a printing press moment,” said Altman. “We have to work together to make it so.”

Without leadership and cooperation, everyday people—such as our students and professors—could find themselves without a sense of worth or need.

“As this technology advances, we understand that people are anxious about how it could change the way we live,” Altman said. “We are, too.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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