The Art(ifice) of Learning

For the third year in a row, I’m running my series of informal talks about the Art of Learning here at CBS. It starts today. It’s a great chance for me to hear what I’m currently thinking about the state of knowledge in higher education. As usual, the plan is to begin with the art of knowing things, and then move on to reading, thinking, writing, listening, talking and enjoying things. There’s a final talk at the end about how to retain what we learn and maintain the ability to learn (and relearn) still more things.

This year, there’s a shadow hanging over me, of course. Students are asking themselves whether their time over the next five years is best spent developing their natural talents or learning how to use an artificial intelligence. As I said already at the end of last year’s series, I fear we’re approaching a dystopian future in which getting an education really just means fine tuning (and perhaps learning how to prompt) a bespoke AI, an artificially intelligent assistant (or outright alter ego) customized to your particular discipline.

For now, I’m sticking to my guns. Students should learn how to use their minds and bodies, shaping their senses and their motives ever more precisely to engage with an increasingly digital environment. They should not leave their thinking to machines any more than they should leave their feelings to them. Norman Mailer once said that technology is always offering more power and less pleasure. I understand the temptation. I’m going to spend some of my talks offering some arguments for resisting it.

A university education is already a very artificial thing. But, as with art, the point is to use this formal setting to explore the gifts you were born with, to find out what your body can do, as Spinoza put it, not just, pace Deleuze and Guattari, to plug it into a bunch of machines.

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