While Parents of Students Want an End to Neutral Language, AI Swallows Us Alive – 03/26/2023


Colégio Dante Alighieri, one of the most traditional schools in São Paulo, sent a statement to the students’ parents rejecting the use of neutral language in the classrooms.

I learned from the newspapers that a sixth-grade history teacher used a video produced by an anthropology laboratory at USP (University of São Paulo) as a pedagogical tool.

Pressured by compliance with the bland curriculum imposed by the Ministry of Education and a horde of students bored with their own privileges, with the best of intentions, she decided to innovate. She put aside the repetitive logic of lectures, the blackboard and the unbearable correction of exercises and bet on screens for students addicted to screens. She just didn’t expect that the handling of the Portuguese language definite articles in the video would draw more attention than the content presented.

Parents concerned that boys still wear blue and girls wear pink pressed management to find out when the 400-year-old elite’s manuals of good manners began to admit the use of all, girls, students, boys around. Quickly, the school informed that no, nothing has changed. Despite the changes in the world, everything is as it always was in the bubble.

Here lives the revolution.

If artificial intelligence software (such as ChatGPT) manages to fulfill the promised transformation, in a short time the dantesque parents will not be able to pay the expensive school fees. They will either lose their jobs or blow away their rich inherited fortunes to live on.

Since the invention of the steam engine, in the first Industrial Revolution, we have suffered from the fear that machines will take the jobs of humans. From the 18th century onwards, little by little, millions of manual workers were replaced by technology and had to look for other means to pay their own bills.

However, with the evolution of artificial intelligence, the biggest risk is in the glue of those who work with their heads. For the first time in history, cognitive work is in danger of being quickly outgrown. Anyone who works in a suit and tie, earns a snort and thinks they are special for the ideas they have enters ChatGPT and is shocked by the speed with which the traquitana draws, writes, composes and solves problems that are difficult to solve.

A recent survey showed that 19% of American workers will be seriously affected by the potential of artificial intelligence platforms. At least 50% of the daily tasks of journalists, writers, financial analysts, scientists and technology developers will be done by computers. The researchers conclude that, this time, it is workers with more years of study, coming from the best schools and universities, who will have more difficulty justifying the high wages in the labor market.

Not the end of the world. The only way for us, cognitive workers, to be able to keep our jobs in the face of the unbridled domination of AI is in what I call “cat and mouse operation”. That is, we will live in a stage of eternal vigilance, measuring how much what we do is at risk of being dominated by technology. And, at the crossroads, it will be up to us to develop new skills, adapt to new contexts and escape the programmed obsolescence of ourselves.

This process is only possible if we have enough critical sense to analyze scenarios, find new paths and transform ourselves. It is necessary to assume, once and for all, that “we are beings programmed to learn” — in François Jacob’s terms — and with a critical sense that no machine will have the capacity to have. This process is only possible with continuous and lasting training.

More than ever, it will be up to schools to assume Freire’s project of thinking about education not as a transfer of knowledge, but as a space that creates possibilities for the production and construction of new knowledge. We will only win this battle against the machines if we are able to apply the idea that “those who train form and re-form while training, and those who are trained form and form while being trained”, as Paulo Freire well remembered.

In a world marked by the ubiquity of artificial intelligence, there will be no room for narrow-minded people. Anyone who bets on intellectual poverty, on the narrowness of the mind, on the pettiness of thought and on the restriction of any provocation to reflection will be replaced by codes and will not have a job.

Parents of students have the right to be conservative and encourage their children not to use neutral language in everyday life. But when they forbid the school to touch on the subject, they reduce the children’s exposure to new challenges, to other ways of thinking, and put an end to the development of their critical capacity. They run the risk of coming out more like machines than humans.

To stick with the crude example, people who are polyglot in their own language have more vocabulary and ability to discern the reason for articles, when to use them, with whom to use them and how to coin them. And to acquire a more complex, interpretive thinking and with a discernment incapable of being overcome by artificial intelligence.

If nothing changes, the world has a chance to turn into an even worse place. Life will be dominated by machines and small-minded people, without jobs and with free time, scattered around to pester us.

We are on the brink of Dante’s inferno.

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