Having a professor at your fingertips? Is it possible?

I couldn’t resist the temptation and created a digital clone of myself, or more precisely, of the knowledge from my publications on #interpreting and #technology. Now, people can engage in natural language conversations with this virtual counterpart, asking questions about the few topics where I possess some expertise. From what I can discern, as the real me, the responses are accurate.

While this is merely a small experiment, it prompts us to consider its implications for learning, a fundamental and central activity for us humans. To be honest, the impact could be significant. The advent of printed encyclopedias, followed by Wikipedia, and the Web as a vast repository of information, have already radically transformed how we access and consume information.

Cloning a scientist, a writer, or any individual as a repository of expertise and knowledge – using the term ‘cloning’ loosely for the sake of clarity1 – has the potential to once again revolutionize our acquisition of knowledge. This potential is now at our fingertips. Instead of relying on static mediums of information, such as books or videos, we could have an interactive counterpart. This entity could process all relevant information and present it in an easily accessible manner. If the responses are consistent with the accumulated knowledge, this could significantly expedite research, making it more dynamic – a trait of our times – and facilitate the extraction of information that would otherwise require considerable effort to acquire. Since having constant access to an expert is not the norm – in fact, it’s usually not possible – the opportunities this opens up are vast.

However, there are potential drawbacks, and my list of concerns is quite extensive. The most significant issues, I believe, are human-related, namely how we might behave when such clones become a standard gateway to knowledge. Some are also technology related. Let’s explore these concerns:

👉 The anthropomorphization of such applications (as depicted in the acclaimed movie ‘Her‘) leads us to perceive this AI clone as a real entity, akin to the actual Claudio. However, it’s critical to remember that the real Claudio is distinct and uniquely responsible for his own thoughts. The danger lies in the potential blurring of lines between the AI clone and the real individual. Here is a good paper on the topic.

👉 The reliance on expert AI systems at our fingertips can undermine our own ability to derive meaning independently. Having instant access to expert knowledge might bypass the challenging yet rewarding journey of discovery, which can be arduous and time-consuming. This convenience is a double-edged sword. Much like how younger generations struggle with sustaining attention on lengthy content due to shortened attention spans, an overreliance on AI for meaning-making might lead to diminished capacity for independent thought and understanding.

👉 The dilemma of creating novel ideas: Experts, through ongoing study and experimentation, continually evolve their thoughts and occasionally make significant leaps in their ideas. Knowledge is dynamic, and true experts frequently reassess their understanding in light of new questions. While AI, particularly advanced models, might generate new variations or ideas, this poses a dilemma. These novel ideas are products of the AI ‘clone,’ not the original expert. In a tool designed to ‘clone’ an expert’s knowledge for educational purposes, it’s crucial to distinguish between the AI-generated content and the original expert’s evolving insights.

As previously mentioned, the list of possibilities is extensive and I might have added many more. However, notwithstanding the possible drawbacks, three points are particularly clear to me:

1️⃣ Firstly, this type of cloning technology is set to become trendy, and it will undoubtedly fulfill its intended purposes, enhancing the learning process towards greater autonomy. This development is positive, regardless of the criticisms from anti-technology commentators. These critics would likely have opposed any other innovation that they now deem beneficial, particularly if it conflicts with their personal interests.

2️⃣ Secondly, these clones will improve in quality very soon, and they will become more interactive, i.e. not text based. They will have an human-like avatar listening and talking to you.

3️⃣ Finally, the stakes extend beyond just learning opportunities; there are also significant prospects for business endeavors in the field of education. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, we are entering an era where the value of ideas and their execution surpasses that of the underlying technology. In this context, both private individuals and public institutions have the potential to lead the forefront of this transformative change.

Educational institutions, including schools and universities, are poised for transformation as the tools for acquiring knowledge evolve. This shift represents a significant opportunity. Our educational system not only can but indeed needs to be improved. Any external contribution towards this change is welcomed. What is essential is the involvement of innovative minds to steer this change in a positive direction.

Click here to ask questions to my clone. An OpenAI Pro account is required.

  1. In reality, cloning here means just to ingest a corpus of coherent texts – in this case my works – in order for the LLM to use it to lookup information. ↩︎

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