Whatever It Is, I'm Against It

Happy First In The Nation Primary Day! About time. So naturally, we're gonna talk about … something else entirely, a tweet from my favorite physics professor at the University Near Here:

There's plenty of things about which college students should be outraged. Although I'm pretty sure my list and CPW's list might not overlap much.

Her tweet is in response to Matthew Boedy, "rhetoric professor" at the University of North Georgia. The Axios story to which he links is here: OpenAI launches university partnership with Arizona State, allowing use of ChatGPT. A fuller version of the relevant quote:

ASU intends to use ChatGPT Enterprise to create AI avatars to help students study for courses, primarily in STEM fields, and broader topics, according to a CNBC article. ASU Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick said that the University will also use the technology to help students improve their writing in ASU's largest course, Freshman Composition.

And further down the rabbit hole, the Axios story seems to be based on this CNBC article: OpenAI announces first partnership with a university. The relevant bit:

With the OpenAI partnership, ASU plans to build a personalized AI tutor for students, not only for certain courses, but also for study topics. STEM subjects are a focus and are “the make-or-break subjects for a lot of higher education,” Gonick said. The university will also use the tool in ASU’s largest course, Freshman Composition, to offer students writing help.

ASU also plans to use ChatGPT Enterprise to develop AI avatars as a “creative buddy” for studying certain subjects, like bots that can sing or write poetry about biology, for instance.

It's easy to make fun of the self-interested concerns of faculty members. If their school spends money on technology, that will mean less money for … um, them.

I can't find the exact quote, but I seem to remember a famous university president observing that faculty were pretty liberal in their politics, but utterly conservative when it comes to their own institutions and interests. Or maybe the better word (in this case) is "reactionary". CPW's reaction to the ASU news seems knee-jerk, with no trace of open-mindedness. She knows no good could possibly come of this. I can only imagine her standing athwart history, yelling Stop.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Relevant Amazon link at your right, a book that's on my get-at-library list.

The reductio: let's not have any technology in 2024 that wasn't available to (oh, say…) Harvard's Class of 1642! Ban the AI menace from campus? Heck, I say let's get rid of spell-checkers! Grammarly! Google! Word processors! And typewriters, for that matter! Bring out your quill pens! We might let you have a slide rule.


For another example of my-ox-is-being-gored reaction to encroaching AI, see my fisking of Joyce Maynard's Facebook rant. The same issues apply here. Just suppose that AI will be used the same way new technology has always been used: to reduce drudgery, and improve productivity. Not as a replacement, but as a supplement to "real instruction and support". A supplement that's available 24/7/365, not just during "office hours". One with effectively infinite patience. OK, that's a tad pollyannish, but let's just say I see possible upsides. And I think that's the way to bet, unless clear and convincing evidence otherwise is presented.

And really, to the extent it's that easy for an AI to supplant "real instruction and support", maybe it's time for some university wetware to alter their career paths.

Also of note:

  • At the other end of the country from the Live Free or Die state… Joel Kotkin looks at the great state of California, where freedom goes to die.

    California was once a byword for liberty and opportunity. The so-called Golden State was home first to the Gold Rush, then to Hollywood and then to the tech revolution in Silicon Valley. Californians have long been proud of that legacy – indeed, during a 2022 debate against Florida governor Ron DeSantis, California governor Gavin Newsom boasted that his state epitomised ‘freedom’. While this might once have been true, under Newsom’s direction, and that of the state’s essentially one-party legislature, California has been transformed into something unrecognisable.

    However much one might dislike DeSantis’ sometimes heavy-handed approach to fighting wokeness in Florida, California is unlikely to meet most people’s definitions of freedom. The state government of California now forces shops to have a gender-neutral toy section. It seeks to extract billions as reparations for slavery. It aims to control speech and indoctrinate the young. It is attempting to regulate virtually every aspect of life in the name of ‘saving the planet’.

    Maybe it depends on how you define ‘freedom’. California certainly offers freedoms to those on the margins. The homeless, undocumented migrants and petty criminals now have the freedom to commit crimes without much worry of prosecution. Back when Newsom was campaigning to be mayor of San Francisco 20 years ago, he pledged to eliminate homelessness in 10 years. Now California’s homeless numbers are growing not just in San Francisco, but also across the whole state. Overall, California has 30 per cent of the US’s homeless population. The state is hardly a ‘model for the nation’, as Newsom proudly proclaims.

    Kotkin also points out‥

  • It's expensive to live there, but there is a lot of crime. Kotkin links to a report that I hadn't previously noticed: Tax Burden by State 2023. You can quibble with that report's methodology, but California's tax burden is high, but it's "only" in fifth place overall, behind New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Vermont.

    So New Hampshire's tax burden is the lowest, right? That would be nice, but no. In fact, it's not even close to the lowest: a 9.6% tax burden puts us at #36!

    The culprit is, of course, the property tax (1.89%, 3rd highest in the nation).

    But we're beating the tar out of those other New England states. We already mentioned Connecticut (#2) and Vermont. Which leaves Massachusetts (#12), Maine (#10), and little Rhode Island (#14).

  • Let's not go there. Megan McArdle asks a question I might not have expected her to ask: How far should we be willing to go to silence Nazis?.

    Checking my cellphone bill the other day, I found myself wondering just how many Nazis use the same service as me. Probably hundreds, since I use one of the three biggest cell providers in the country. What were the ethics, I wondered, of paying a company that was being used to spread hate?

    If this question seems somewhat absurd to you, you probably haven’t been following the controversy over Nazis on Substack.

    Substack is a platform that publishes email newsletters for independent authors — including my husband, who writes a weekly newsletter about home bartending. Thousands of authors use the platform, and, collectively, they reach tens of millions of subscribers. Almost none of the authors, or the subscribers, are Nazis. But a few appear to be either Nazis or Nazi-adjacent, which led Jonathan Katz to write in the Atlantic in November that there were “scores of white-supremacist, neo-Confederate, and explicitly Nazi newsletters on Substack.”

    Megan notes that the slope Substack's critics want it to be on is a slippery one.

    She does not make the "shouldn't you also want to silence the Communists?" argument.