Higher Education

keep on teaching in the e-world!

Books > An Essay: Computers as Authors? Literary Luddites Unite!” href=””>The New York Times reports on computer programs for writing relatively successful fiction. However despite this success some roadblocks remain.

That no computer has yet written the Great American Novel may be because computers are subject to some of the same handicaps that afflict human writers. First, writing is hard! Although computers can work unhindered by free will, bourbon or divorce, such advantages are outweighed by a lack of life experience or emotions. Second, and all too familiar to living writers of fiction, there is no money in it. Unable to teach creative writing or marry rich, computers have to depend on research grants. And why would anyone pay for a computer to do something that humans can still do better for peanuts?

This got me thinking. Of course it would be possible, I imagine, to program computers to flip burgers at ever fast food joint across the nation. Perhaps such “innovation” is on its way. But I’m guessing its easier and cheaper to just hire teenagers to do it (not to say that it would probably be bad PR to put all those kids out of work).

Though teachers cost (marginally) more than burger flippers, their jobs are disproportionately more complex, particularly in terms of interacting with other humans. Despite the fact that one often hears in popular magazines and elsewhere that the teaching profession will be supplanted by computers, I believe the computational difficulty/cost compared with the cost of human instruction will not make such replacements economically viable.

True, one could argue that as computers get faster and cheaper that viability may shift. And undoubtedly, as I often write about, information technology will continue to alter teaching practices. But I do not believe it will alter the need for teachers.

Certainly, as the futurists predict, if computers acheive or perhaps even approach consciousness and intelligence equal to or greater than our own (to which I tend to say, “speak for yourself, genius”), they will be able to replace teachers. However by that time I don’t think we will be alone. We will be joined on the unemployment line by knowledge workers from doctors and lawyers to engineers and architects.

Until then we’ll be happily flipping through student papers, b/c who would want to pay a computer to do a job that can be done more cheaply by humans?

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