‘Tsunami of AI’ will dumb down the human race

Credit:Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

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Student cheats

The real and only impact of the “tsunami of AI” that is heading our way (“Cheating is about to become unstoppable”, 18/1) is a dumbing down of the human race. And what are the ramifications of that, well, I hate to think.

I remember when I was at uni, spending countless hours, usually just before deadlines, rummaging through volumes of art history, putting together a dissertation on the meaning and relationship of some art form or another. Was it always enjoyable? No. Was it entertaining and did it give me a deeper understanding of art history and hence the world and my place in it? Yes. Did it help my young and developing brain? Yes.
Frank Flynn, Cape Paterson

Moral value in old methods
Joanne Orlando tells us of lazy university students who get AI programs to do their assignments. As these programs become more sophisticated, universities find it increasingly difficult to validate the authenticity of students’ work. Orlando deems the real issue to be, “What is important knowledge today?” whereas I’d have thought it was that this behaviour is fundamentally dishonest. At one point Orlando asks us to consider whether we’d rather employ a crafty individual au fait with AI capabilities or one who relies on old methods. Call me old-fashioned, but hopefully employers will continue to value someone who isn’t a liar and a cheat.
Duncan Cameron, Parkdale

Assessments must change
Cheating in assignments has always happened, and always will as long as there are others whom you can pay or cajole to help you. It’s just easier now with ChatGPT. But the real issue is what you’re looking for in an essay/assignment, and that’s the tough one. Facts are usually straightforward enough, but how you collect, select, interpret, understand, analyse, explain and use them sets you apart – and makes you potentially useful in the world.

Joanne Orlando is right in suggesting that “the knowledge we need to develop also needs to change”. Of course, AI like ChatGPT will progress endlessly in its ability not only to collect information but to analyse it – and we may all, not just students, take advantage of that ability. But in assessing student ability we should minimise use of well-known examples and issues, and probably use fictional ones – until ChatGPT takes the next step!
Peter Deerson, Mornington

Random exams would be a true test
As a doctoral candidate in Oxford in the ’70s, I was obliged to complete a viva voce examination with three examiners, after my written dissertation was submitted. Joanne Orlando rightly worries that students can now easily present AI-generated essays, but makes no mention of using oral examinations to verify a student’s real knowledge of the subject. Perhaps it could be done randomly, like breath-testing.
Peter Greig, Colac

Student experience diluted
Assessment strategies rival car parking as an enduring topic of debate in universities. Once tuition fees were introduced and paid student support schemes diluted or dropped, students (aka “customers”) were forced to fit study in around paid work. International students had added pressures given family sacrifices and cultural and language difficulties. As for student support, dedication to teaching has become such a career hazard that undergraduate students are largely taught by underpaid and precariously employed sessional staff while tenured staff are engrossed in grant applications and research.

Attempts to improve the student course experience tend to be diluted over time and pretentious and prematurely specialised courses re-emerge at the expense of more generic approaches encouraging critical thinking and adaptability. Given all this, it is not surprising that some students resort to software-generated essays to survive in a system that too often fosters an alienating credentialism instead of an engaging education.
John Carmichael, Hawthorn


Sub optimal
What a brilliant summation by David Livingstone (Comment, 18/1) on why we should not proceed with the decision to buy nuclear subs. They will not deter China from attacking Australia if they ever wanted to, and there is no evidence they would. There are better, more effective and much cheaper ways to defend our country and the billions saved could be well spent on health, education and transport infrastructure.
Michael Cleaver, Southbank

Militarily meaningless
The decision by the Australian government to order eight nuclear submarines to protect Australia and our neighbours may seem reasonable until you read the insightful analysis by David Livingstone. He clearly outlines how this decision is “militarily meaningless”. Particularly when you consider China, which already has 79 nuclear submarines, is the most likely aggressor, far off Taiwan as their most likely target and that Australia’s submarines will not be delivered until some time in the distant future at a cost of well over $A170 billion.

The submarines will cost Australia many new schools, hospitals, transport systems, etc, before even mentioning aged care and environmental restoration. Livingstone’s article should be essential reading for all future leaders as I’m sure the current ones won’t even look at it.
Kevin Fahey, Red Hill

Keeping a lid on variants
Liam Mannix’s excellent analysis on the reporting of COVID-19 variants is informative and makes an excellent point (“It’s time to stop worrying so much about new variants”, 17/1). I’ve long thought that there is little benefit in reporting C-19 antigen drifts. Such minute mutations fundamentally do not change the virus, nor the symptoms, nor the contagion, nor the efficacy of vaccines and antiviral drugs. What the reporting does do, is to create public panic, unnecessary worry and pressure on GPs. Once there is a fundamental C-19 antigen shift that may affect how the virus impinges on us – then report.
George Greenberg, Malvern

Build on good work
I agree that people “who do not belong” are more likely to support extremist groups or disrupt democracy (Letters, 18/1). So how does society stop them “at the source”? Part of the answer has to be recognising the activities and pressures in modern society – rapid change in work, family life, media and the internet, to name a few. The good news is that many people and organisations recognise this. We should build on what we do well already.

Examples? Schools aim to encourage every child to succeed, not just in the academic sphere. Family courts ensure that children’s interests are protected, in divorce settlements. Local councils support sporting, youth and other community participation. Churches and charities provide help with a human touch.

So yes — do all of the above better, with community recognition that it takes effort and money/resources.
John Hughes, Mentone

Comfort in dictators
Adding to Peter Hartcher’s insightful piece on how we aren’t immune from fascism in Australia (Comment, 17/1), it’s also important to consider the human condition of survival that allows fascism to flourish. This is nicely illustrated in William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, where frightened school boys, stranded on a deserted island without a leader, are drawn to a tyrant taking control. Given the right circumstances, humans will find comfort in a dictator promising them security and a sense of belonging.
Henry Herzog, St Kilda East

Spirit of resistance
The words of former prisoner, Ray Mooney, (“Pentridge throws open the gates of ‘Hell’ to the public”, 18/1) resonated with me, despite only having served six weeks in Pentridge as a political prisoner in 1972. From my cell in A Division, at night, I heard the thuds and screams from “H” (Hell) Division as men were bashed by prison officers.

As I experienced it, ill-treatment and brutality were par for the course at the prison, and it seems this will be acknowledged during the forthcoming tours. However, what I fear will be overlooked is perhaps the most important historical lesson from Pentridge; namely, that where there is repression, there is resistance.

Prisoners began standing up for themselves, against terrific odds, and for the first time in the prison’s history did so with the active encouragement of groups like the Prisoners’ Action Committee, of which I was spokesman from 1973 to 1976. We exposed conditions on the inside, giving a voice to inmates, and rallied the public to protest outside the prison gates.
Barry York, Lyneham, ACT

Bill splitting
As a former restaurant owner I can attest what often happens when one person gathers up the cash from the rest of the dining party (Letters, 18/1). Many a time they would blatantly disregard the fellow diners rounding up their charge by including a tip. The enterprising holder of the credit card would pay the final bill ensuring that often his duplicitous act would afford him a free meal. Splitting bills is time consuming but the scammers are exposed.
Mary Mandanici, Preston

A mass of nothing
The musicians quoted in your piece about Hamer Hall very clearly demonstrate the deficiency in a supposedly major concert hall that has no organ (“From pipe dream to nightmare: Ire over Hamer Hall’s missing feature”, 17/1). It is absurd that the MSO has to exclude works requiring an instrument that is virtually standard in other great concert venues.

But if Arts Centre management believe (quite wrongly) there is no demand for an organ, perhaps they could turn their minds to another issue. Where there used to be an organ, there is now, after a major refurbishment, the drabbest, uninspiring backdrop. Before the finest music is played, we the audience gaze behind the orchestra space at a featureless mass of nothing. It quite dampens one’s spirit.
Ian Dunn, Fitzroy North

Organ grinding
Oh no, it’s the annual plea for a pipe organ for Hamer Hall. If musician Douglas Lawrence really needs to “annihilate the orchestra” what better than the Grateful Dead “Wall of Sound” stack? First unveiled in 1974, five times louder than any pipe organ and twice the dynamic range, he could annihilate the audience as well, at a fraction of the cost of a Eurocentric musical Titanic.

The pipe organ is a 19th century anachronism of empire, hugely expensive to build and maintain and notoriously temperamental — and it would sit idle for 350 days of the year, an extravagant toy for a few organists to practise a limited repertoire for a small audience.

Hamer Hall does not need to spend millions on a relic. Rather it should ensure its sound system is state of the art and embrace music from our multicultural present.
John Laurie, Riddells Creek

Ute beaut
Once again, a chorus of those who deplore the way our languages evolves in creative ways, in terms of pronunciation, spelling, use of words, and even at times, interesting truncations (Letters, 18/1). The other day we got a new fridge, and it came on a ute. Would sound a bit odd to say we bought a new model refrigerator, delivered on a utility vehicle.
Ian Higgins, Mornington

Etiquette about care
It is evident from the numerous letters on the topic of how one should sound and how one should address and be addressed by another, that there are many among us from “polite society”. It is a strength to be open minded and embracing of things beyond your own experience.

The best manners ensure other people feel comfortable in your presence. Etiquette is more about care and consideration and things that allow people to sit down at the table of life as equals, to share the buffet and feel comfortable. Gracie Warner, Kooyong

Over reach
Given all the correspondence lately on the misuse of our English language, I just want to “reach out” to all other correspondents and add my concern about the decline we have been witnessing for many years. Did my “reach” get to you?
Alan Muir, Mount Eliza

Listen to my advice
Malcolm Knox bemoans the decline of reading as a source of enjoyment and enlightenment (Comment, 14/1). My reading habits had declined with my mental energy. Then, while on a long driving trip, my wife and I discovered the joys of listening to books. Last year I read 10-15 books but listened to more than 50.

Most of the books I consume, Knox may consider “junk”, but I have found that literature that eluded me over the years, such as Ulysses by James Joyce, is more accessible this way. There is a degree of guilt that this is not “reading” but it does “transport me to other worlds” I would otherwise miss.
Michael Langford, Ivanhoe

Fine distinction
I tear my hair out each time I hear decimate used to mean almost total destruction. Decimation was when soldiers were rebellious and 10 per cent were randomly selected and executed to ensure the remaining 90 per cent fought harder. So, let us see destroyed instead of decimated.
Rod Watson, East Brighton

Passing muster
The use of “passing” or “passing away” implies a quiet movement from one state of being to another. It has critics but avoids the abruptness and finality of “death”. Despite millennia of speculation about the possibility and nature of an afterlife, there is no conclusive evidence of individual cognitive existence after physical disintegration. Until we get that sorted, the blunt word “death” seems unexceptionable. We don’t yet hear of Christ “passing away” to atone for the sins of the world.
Peter Barry, Marysville

And another thing

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

Nuclear submarines – a mug’s game (Comment, 18/1). Too late, too hazardous and too dear, with massive opportunity costs for education, health and climate action.
Greg Curtin, Blackburn South

David Livingstone’s words of wisdom should be listened to by the Albanese government. Let the Americans deal with China if they are willing.
Bill Mathew, Parkville

Your correspondent (“Why not try tap water?” 17/1) reminded me of the couple who, while unloading cartons of plastic bottled water at the checkout, decried, without a hint of irony, the amount of plastic waste at their local beach.
Mary Cole, Richmond

More words
Add to the list of pronunciation gripes the one-syllable word “tour” (rhymes with “your”) being mispronounced as to-ah.
Erica Grebler, Caulfield North

Use adverbs correct! I am sick of “Save Big!” from advertising, commentators urging “run quick!” and “real good”.
David Baylis, Drouin East

Criticising people for mispronunciation seems mean. They can generally still be understood. What’s the problem, pacifically?
Lawrie Bradly, Surrey Hills

After the Norman Invasion in 1066 the English language survived in the hands of the common people. In their hands it has continued, not only to evolve, but to improve.
Kenneth Ormerod, Mentone

My pet hate is the response to a joke with: “That’s funnay.” I suppose it is a form of laughter.
Winston Anderson, Mornington

I can live with being called a guy (I’d prefer bloke or even cobber), but call me buddy and you are in big trouble.
Graham Bridge, Morwell

Given Boris Johnson’s penchant for stretching the truth, can his forthcoming memoir be categorised as non-fiction?
Alan Inchley, Frankston

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