You Ask, I Answer: What is the Value of Exams in the Age of AI?

You Ask, I Answer: What is the Value of Exams in the Age of AI?

In today’s episode, we tackle a critical question in the age of AI: what is the value of exams and term papers when generative AI can automate these tasks? Explore the outdated educational model designed for a manufacturing economy and discover why it’s failing to prepare students for the intelligence revolution. You’ll learn how AI is forcing us to rethink education and embrace new approaches that foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Get ready to challenge conventional wisdom and envision the future of education in an AI-powered world!

You Ask, I Answer: What is the Value of Exams in the Age of AI?

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Christopher Penn: In today’s episode, Ed asks, “What is the value—this is a higher education question—what is the value of term papers and exams in the generative AI era? Doesn’t it basically seem unnecessary?” He had some very stark words, but essentially, AI calls into question the value of an exam.

What is the value of an exam? It is to test someone’s knowledge. Why would you need to have someone’s knowledge be tested? So that you know what they’re capable of. Here’s the thing—we’re going to go down the rabbit hole a bit here:

The unpleasant reality of most education systems, but particularly the education system in the United States of America where I am based, is that the education system was designed for an economy that doesn’t exist anymore. Back in the 1920s, the 1930s, a bunch of—they were called robber barons, but captains of industry if you want to be more kind—essentially collaborated with government, state and federal, and education, to create and reform the education system to create obedient workers for factories. These folks all had huge factories that needed workers, and those workers needed to be smart enough to operate the machines, they need to be smart enough to do tasks, but they also had to be obedient. And so, we created a manufacturing system for human robots at these factories.

Think about how the education system is structured. What are grades of people? That’s a batch of product. You have some sixth graders, seventh graders, eighth graders—these are batches of products that are moving through the assembly process to make these humanoid robots. What are exams? QA testing. You’re QA testing your batch to make sure the product meets standards. What’s a diploma? The product label on the product says, “This product has passed inspection and is ready for use in the factory.”

We designed the system, and for a few decades, it worked real well. We had people in factories making stuff, making those names—Carnegie, Rockefeller, Mellon—really, really, really wealthy. And as long as that economy was there, that model worked. Factory workers got paid reasonably well, they were able to afford things like a house, cars, and stuff.

That economy is gone. Most of that economy is replaced by automation. We have now workers in factories whose job is to help maintain the robots, to troubleshoot, to innovate, to explore. The information revolution happened, and now today, AI is creating the intelligence revolution where even cognition and reasoning can be, in certain circumstances and contexts, outsourced to machines.

So, the economy has changed. The education system has not. We still educate people for a manufacturing economy. And if you think about it, AI in particular can automate those knowledge tasks. We can automate—in the same way we automated the assembly of the automobile, we can automate the assembly of an essay. So, is it any surprise that students are already automating their essays and term papers and stuff with AI? Teachers are automating their grading with it because that manufacturing economy leftover in the education system wasn’t automated, and now we have the tools to automate it.

So, what does this mean for the future of education? It means that the future of education has to evolve to the intelligence economy. It means teaching people how to think creatively, how to think outside the box, how to reason in different and unconventional ways, how to operate machines, how to engineer prompts, how to construct and fine-tune models, because just as surely as robots took away the requirement to screw in this bolt on this auto frame to make this car part work, the models themselves can effectively do the same thing for an essay, a cover letter, etc. Those are tasks that are rote and repetitive and, therefore, candidates for automation. Generative AI can automate those things.

So now, we have to figure out how to upgrade education to match the economy that we now have.

It’s an interesting question. It’s a whole can of worms, and maybe we’ll do a deep dive on education and stuff because there’s a lot of—there’s a lot of things to talk about when it comes to education and its outcomes, what we spend on it, and whether or not the product of the system is actually what we want. Do we still need obedient worker robots? Right? Maybe, maybe not. But if we don’t have a conversation about it, we will continue making something for an economy that doesn’t exist anymore.

Thanks for the question. I’ll talk to you next time. If you enjoyed this video, please hit the like button, subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. And if you want to know when new videos are available, hit the bell button to be notified as soon as new content is live.

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