By Ilana Greenberg
Human civilization has developed side by side with technology — some may say, in competition with it. Technological innovations have diminished the need for workers in jobs requiring physical labor, efficient repetition or mass production, because such skills are easily replaceable.
Artificial intelligence is a leap forward in such technology that is no longer a dream of science fiction movies. Rather, it is a reality that threatens to change the way we interact with the world. AI recognizes our faces when we unlock our iPhones, gives us movie recommendations on our favorite streaming services, and now, with the creation of ChatGPT, AI is a student’s dream come true: It can write essays.
Historically, the replacement of humans with machines isn’t an uncommon occurrence. And now I can’t help but ask, is creativity, too, a thing of the past?
Before machines, there were skills valued as attributes that couldn’t be replicated. During the Industrial Revolution, however, the skill of sewing a dress — and later, in the second Industrial Revolution, the ability to put a tire on a car — became devalued, because they were no longer abilities unique to humans. A “skilled” worker wasn’t enough; machines were just as “skilled,” and technology had raised the standard.
In more recent times, the achievements of NASA’s “human computers,” whose intellect put a man on the moon, no longer compare to the mathematical and computational power of the smartphones we hold in our hands. Even intelligence seems to be replaceable. Now a computer claims to generate creativity, jeopardizing the jobs of those with abilities like programming and writing. If your talent is something that a computer can do, it’s not good enough.
As a student with access to technological resources that simplify everything from conducting research to learning a language, I suppose I should embrace technological advancement. But quite frankly, I’m tired of it. For one thing, my dependence on the newest gadgets and gizmos has limited my practical abilities. I don’t know how to search through a library to conduct a research project. I find it difficult to study without online aids. And I can’t even hand in an assignment without internet access to Google Classroom.
Is it too much to ask to be able to turn in an essay without worrying that a teacher will question whether it was written by a robot?
I fear that technology has not only limited our independence in our daily activities, but has also undermined the values of hard work and self-achievement. My high school offers an introductory class called Writing Lab, giving ninth-graders a year of individualized instruction on how to craft a concise and engaging essay. But ChatGPT knows how to write an introduction, a thesis and three body paragraphs — with citations in MLA format — in less than a minute, which is more than some freshmen can do by the end of the year.
The potential uses of ChatGPT raise a host of philosophical questions. If, supposedly, technology’s completion of creative tasks is as effortless as its mastery of physical labor, does this suggest that creativity isn’t a distinctly human quality? And that creativity itself is synthetic, predictable and reproducible?
I worry about what effect this will have on my own future. Will there come a day when years devoted to academic achievement will be devalued in an instant? And, even scarier, is every hour that I devote to my love of writing now worth no more than a two-minute chatbot query?
To ease my concerns, I imagine that we can learn to live in cooperation with technology, not in competition with it. The true value of progress lies in our use of the tools at our disposal to enhance, not replace, human achievement. Let’s remember that technology is our puppet. We are still its masters.
Ilana Greenberg, of Valley Stream, is a sophomore at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, in Great Neck.