The changing world: The place of artificial intelligence, by Afe Babalola


ABOUT a 100 years ago when I came into this world, the joy and celebration over the arrival of the new moon was much higher than the joy and celebration that greeted the arrival of a new born baby. People believed that the moon was a god. Both the young and the old used to kneel down to welcome the new moon. They used to pray for blessings from the new moon for the month. Even women who were desirous of having children would pray to the moon for the blessings of the womb. Similarly, people prayed to the new moon to allow rain to fall.

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Those were times when there were no shoes, no tarred roads, no electricity, no pipe-borne water and of course there was no telephone. We were not wearing singlets and pants. All these happened less than 100 years ago. Today, virtually everybody, including primary school pupils have access to telephone sets.

In Ekiti, when Christ School was founded by Archdeacon Henry Dallimore in 1933, students used to trek from all parts of Ekiti to Ado-Ekiti, including people like Professor C. S. Ola and Professor Akinbanji, both from Efon, Professor Joseph Oluwasanmi from Ode, Professor Sam Aluko, also from Ode and the late Justice Olajide Olatawura from Ikole, among others.

However, in less than 100 years and in confirmation that the world keeps changing, we now have shoes, tarred roads, electricity, pipe-borne water, and of course, singlets and pants which make life more worthy of living. Instead of shouting across the divides, we now have access to telephone sets

Thanks to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who in 2001 brought in telecommunication reforms which led to the allocation of the first two GSM networks. Today, most Nigerians can communicate via cell phones. It was one of Obasanjo’s monumental achievements while in office.

Obasanjo withstood all the odds when Motophone, the then owner of the analogue telephone in existence then, hired Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN, to prosecute a case to prevent the Federal Government from implementing the new mobile system. They had understanding with the Abacha government that they were the sole proprietor of mobile system in Nigeria. At that stage, our Chambers was hired by the Federal Government. Consequently, we filed a motion to discharge the interim order and also an objection to the jurisdiction of the court and eventually won the case.

Developments since then:

Since 2001, there had been various developments, including the advent of Google through which we have real time access to information. The latest development now is artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence

This is a computer system capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, interpretation, and corresponding reactions, decision making with very minimal or no human influence, et cetera. For these machines to be able to perform these (human) tasks optimally, they are created with the propensity to self-learn, analyse, and to react perceptively to external stimuli.

The place and import of artificial intelligence can better be appreciated bearing in mind that it has been applied across such sensitive sectors, including security, health, transportation, military operations, and education among others.

Artificial intelligence began with the computer. Whereas the idea to create a thinking machine had existed for several millennial, the breakthrough of AI today started with the creation of the first digital computers in the 1940s. However, with the development of the first microprocessor in 1970, it became progressively possible to have the computer in smaller, faster and techier sizes as is presented in laptops, mobile phones (palmtops), smart watches and quantum computers. AI introduction and development was further heightened with the development of the internet in 1990. Today, approximately 70% of the world population are online per time.

Now, when looking for any information, connection and news among other things, the first point of call of many youths and young adults is the internet. In fact, there is an entire generation of adults who do not remember a time before search engines were available. From its development in 1998, Google has become the household name for research in information gathering because it is fast, simple to use and has the propensity to generate quality result in terms of relevance and recency. Google has integrated AI into its software, and has voice searches, picture searches and has greatly reduced manual efforts needed to obtain information. Technically, if you own a computer device, you have all the information you need in the world, even without the need for formal education. All you need is time and data to access them. Clearly, this new device could lead to a world that may deemphasize formal education.

The aim of education

Education is a scheme designed to guide learning process to achieving mental development, ethical awareness, social skills, et cetera. It is the training of the mind so that an individual can attain such cognitive abilities that are needed to be able to make intelligent decisions with little or no supervision per time.

AI and its contribution to the development of education

With the invention of Technical AI Chatbots such as Chat-GPT, Google Bard, Microsoft Bing, Jasper et cetera, research at various levels of education has become easier. Some of the areas of application of AI in education include:

1. Research: AI has made access to relevant and organised information more possible. A student merely needs to type a desired topic or keyword on the relevant AI platform. The AI will bring overwhelming amount of relevant data at real-time. This gives the students access to materials they need to foster their understanding and knowledge on any desired topic.

2. Personalised Learning: this helps students to individually learn at their own pace, offering better opportunity for learning things of interest. This has been adopted to facilitate learning for students with special needs.

3. Virtual Reality Learning: Students are free to convert the information obtained from the AI searches into forms that complement their learning patterns. These include audio, visual, or audio-visual forms. AI even has the capability to mimic real experiences, giving the students the similitude of a real-life learning environment. This fosters the comprehension of the students on various fields of study.

AI has therefore granted students capabilities that were hitherto deemed impossible. Thanks to AI students are now open to limitless possibilities and data for their research works. This saves a lot of time, reduces fatigue, and leaves room for the students to engage in other productive activities and learnings at almost no cost.

The negative impact of AI on education

Undoubtedly, AI has brought a lot of benefits to education. However, it has equally occasioned some negative effects too. This is mostly associated with the over-dependence of students on AI. Some of these are discussed hereunder.

*Laziness: There was a time when students had to go to the library and check through books to obtain much desired and relevant data. This era is almost extinct. Students now merely have to suggest the contents they are looking for to a Generative AI, and it will supply all information required. Many students have taken this to the extreme and have relied entirely on AI to write their assignments for them, with little or no alterations. This had led to a culture of laziness in students.

*Decreasing Cognitive Abilities: AI is a thinking machine with near human intelligence. The natural implication of this is that the overreliance on AI can hinder critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Research has shown that students have the propensity to be overly dependent on AI for everything academic. For example, education is meant to develop the cognitive and creative ability of students. However, students may limit their innovative and original ideas to suggestions gotten from AI. This may greatly affect the creativity of the students, which will further heighten their dependence on AI. Students may become too dependent on technology to provide answers and solutions rather than using their critical thinking skills. Hence, schools may end up churning out graduates who cannot make basic decisions or turn-in tasks without eliciting help from a machine which can think for them.

*Addiction to AI: AI has the potential to become addictive. Students could lose interest in learning because they are more interested in AI devices and the fact that AI can carry out their tasks for them. We now have students who have no life outside their phones or other devices, because of the various opportunities they offer to make their existences easier. Young adults now disregard the outside world pressing their phones, even at odd places such as on the roads, in the class, in the church, in the mosque and in the library among others.

*Reduction of human interaction: Part of the pursuit of education is to foster social interactions. AI can be detrimental to social and emotional learning and the development of interpersonal skills of students. There are now people who are very active on social media platforms, but who cannot sustain a conversation on such activities if it is not on their devices.

*A replacement of the traditional school system: With technological advancement, everything you want to learn now can be learnt online, from a beginner to a pro. The implication of this is that there is the declining relevance of the traditional school system. I am worried that in the nearest future, schools will lose relevance, while algorithms and robots will usher our children into learning in various fields. Whereas the machine will effectively pass the knowledge, it will be unable to convey the social and emotional education that is needed for being an educated human being. Robots will make our children more robotic than humans.

To be continued….

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