Tag Archives: Knowledge

The politics of knowledge

This is an extended version of an article published in The Conversation on 9th January 2024.

In January 1948, Life magazine published a feature showcasing the ‘102 Great Ideas’ of Western civilization, arrayed in index boxes covering topics from #1: Angel to #102: World. The project was the brainchild of Robert M. Hutchins, then chancellor of the University of Chicago and director of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Hutchins and his team had identified what they believed were the 432 ‘basic great books’, which the Encyclopedia planned to publish in a 54-volume set. To go alongside this collection, Hutchins commissioned a team of researchers to prepare an index so that readers could navigate the complex body of work. The result was displayed as part of an extended article in Life magazine, featuring a large double-page spread in which more than a dozen tired looking indexers posed alongside the output of five years’ work and nearly a million dollars of investment.

While the index was certainly an impressive achievement, at a time before computers were widely available, the results pose more questions than answers. Who exactly decides what counts as knowledge? Who decides which books should be included and which books left out? In this case, all 432 of the ‘great books’ were written by men. Indeed, the subject of ‘Man’ was even given its own chapter in the index, while ‘Woman’ only featured as a sub-category of ‘Family’, ‘Man’ and ‘Love’.

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If AI can write news items, they can write essays too

There is a crisis coming in academia. It’s been looming on the horizon for quite some time, and now threatens to bring the profession into disrepute.

That problem is AI.

For many years now, AI have been used to power chat bots and digital assistants such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa. Over the years, these bots have become far more nuanced and complex. While these systems aren’t intelligent in the same way as a human being, they do a fairly good job at mimicking human behaviour, and convincing us that they are ‘real’.

Indeed, these technologies are now so convincing that it won’t be long before they are put to nefarious use. It’s already been shown that AI can write convincing news articles, and it won’t be long before they are used to write academic essays, even more complex works such as research papers and even full-length publications.

Make no mistake, this is a serious issue, and one that needs to be taken seriously. In the next few years, AI-powered essay mills have the potential to shake academia right to the very core.

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