Posted 08/02/2023 by: Professor David Lloyd

Admit it. You've been curious. Wanted to know what all the fuss is about. I admit that I was. So, I thought that I may as well have a go.

In answer to the first question that popped into my head, ChatGPT responded by producing a very feasible outline for how one might go about creating a university for the future through the combination of two existing universities. File that one under 'could come in handy'.

If you get sneaky and ask it if AI will take over the world, à la Skynet in the Terminator series, it coyly points out that it’s just a humble language engine and implies that it has absolutely no plans for world domination. This precipitates an almost primal sense of unease the more you think about why it would be at such pains to assuage all fear of the rise of the machines. But I digress.

If you’re the creative sort, you *might* feed in a sample from past blogs by way of providing stylistic example and then ask it to write you a new blog about the value of universities in SA. For purely research purposes, of course, and never to take a short cut to content creation. If you were to do such a thing, you might find that it had the following to say …

“Universities are an essential part of our society, providing education and opportunities to individuals from all walks of life. The value of universities goes beyond just the education they offer, but also the impact they have on the economy, innovation, and the future of society. This is especially true in South Australia where public post-secondary education is the largest export industry. It caters for over 150,000 students, employs approximately 12,000 people, and operates with a combined annual turnover of over $2.5 billion.

In South Australia, there has been a rich history of educational innovation, with the formation of UniSA being a great example. UniSA has since become one of the world's best young universities and has proven that innovative thinking can lead to great outcomes.

With this in mind, it's important to continue exploring ways to make the tertiary education landscape in South Australia even better, to truly make Adelaide Australia's City of Learning.

… It’s important to remember that simply repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome won't result in any meaningful change. Instead, new and innovative thinking is needed to make the tertiary education landscape in South Australia even better.

… [T]here is no need for panic. UniSA is holding its own … The university has a responsibility to always think bigger, think better, and challenge itself for the benefit of its students, future and current.”

The glaring absence of any outdated pop culture references and a dearth of witty and relevant movie quotes are a dead giveaway that the text above wasn’t written by me. Also, because the OpenAI engine beneath ChatGPT has no knowledge of the world after 2021, (perhaps due to Covid, the reason is not made immediately clear) this results in it making a few assertions that wouldn’t stack up to close scrutiny in 2023 (hence the … in the quoted text above) but everything else up there is verbatim output from a first pass response. A response which, impressively, took less than 30 seconds to produce. Apparently, it can get better the more it tries (but I hadn’t the heart to subject it to having to read the full Big Picture back catalogue in order to test that).

Now, let me be clear – this is not intended to be a blog that goes on about the challenges AI can present for academic integrity and the need for authentic assessment and so on. That type of calamitous outcry and kneejerkism (a word no AI bot would ever use in a composition … or would it, and would it say that it wouldn’t just to throw you off the scent … a bit like the ‘typo’ on our LED screen last month?) has raced from keyboards across the globe since the little robot (who ironically gets you to prove you’re not a robot in order to use it) started spitting out its views on any topic you choose to raise with it.

Suffice to say that universities are well equipped to deal with making the most of all the advantages that AI affords us for teaching, learning and research – and we will do so with aplomb. We now have a new class of tool for content assembly that will be integrated to how we educate students – and to how they are assessed – as so many others have been before. Remember the advent of the scientific calculator? Panic over.

No. This is a blog about how cool it is that a quasi-sentient online tool, built from 1s and 0s and manifest by the passage of electrons through human designed circuits in materials of differing conductivity – which for all intents and purposes would have appeared as fantastical as witchcraft to anyone establishing a university say, 149 years ago – how totally and absolutely cool it is that said same ‘thing’ can posit that “UniSA has since become one of the world's best young universities and has proven that innovative thinking can lead to great outcomes” and that we have “a responsibility to always think bigger, think better”.

Far out.

I’ve been here ten years now. I can use that expression correctly and in context. (Ten years?!? When did that happen)

Even a *robot* thinks not only is UniSA up to the task of transforming higher education in this state, but also that we have an obligation to do so.

My old mate Terry Pratchett would have absolutely loved the advent of ChatGPT, if only he had lived long enough to see it come about. He and I used to chat, a lot, about all sorts of things and possibilities. I miss those chats. We would have chatted about ChatGPT, I have no doubt.

While Terry was an out and out humanist, and had great faith in our ability to advance (in spite of ourselves at times), he once famously said that “real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time”.

You likely know exactly what he meant.

I know that he wouldn’t mind being proven wrong though – and certainly not by UniSA.

So cool.

Professor David Lloyd

Through The Big Picture, I hope that our whole community gains a greater and current appreciation of what is going on, how it fits together and how our activities connect and reinforce each other at a whole of enterprise level.


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