Debating in the World of AI
Performative assessment, learning to collaborate with humans and machines, and developing special human qualities
“The reality is that AI is here; it’s not going anywhere. It's getting a lot better. It's going to change the world. It's going to change your classroom. If it doesn't change your classroom, then I don't know what relevance your classroom is going to have to the world.” – Me (Podcast #2 with Eric Byron below).
“There are things that transcend AI. In the 1800s, people went to the town square before industrialization in the early 1800s. Before industrialization, before the information economy. They went and they debated and they argued, and they talked and they thought about things, and they learned some content. This worked, you know, back to the Romans, right? It worked then, too. We've done this before.. Cicero. I mean, this has been going on for thousands of years. So we should keep doing this; we don't need to change everything about education because of AI. We need to think what are the most important things to do that we already know how to do that are relevant in the world of AI. Debate is one of those. Will classroom debate be a little new for a teacher? Of course, but it's not as new as AI, and they can make this change now to adapt to an AI World.” Me (Podcast #2 with Eric Byron below).__
Today’s high school and college students will graduate into a world where machines will develop into a world where machines are more intelligent than them in many respects and are capable of what they are doing in a variety of areas. These machines are already smarter than us in some ways, and even in areas where they are weak (factual errors / hallucinations), these are just momentary limitations that will be solved soon.
Machine intelligence will grow considerably, and by the time these students are in their 40s, machines will likely be more intelligent than them in all areas in which they are intelligent, perhaps even millions of times smarter.
The only thing we know is that the world will be radically different from the one that exists now. We don’t know which ways it will be different, but we know it will be different.
The idea that education will continue the way it is now in this world and still be relevant is unlikely. OK, I’ll be blunt: it’s not going to carry on the way it is now. If it tries, students will choose learning opportunities outside the current system that are rapidly developing and are very inexpensive. This is already happening.
I don’t have any magical solutions, but I want to provide an update on the work I’ve done about debate (most of my career) that I think can be helpful in the following ways.
(1) It’s an effective means of formative (and even potentially summative) assessment. We don’t know what our students are writing (as compared to machines), but we do know what they are saying in debate tournaments and in-class debates. They can use “ChatGPT” to help write their speeches, but ChatGPT can’t answer questions from opponents in debate, synthesize ideas in debates, or deliver their powerful closing statements. It can certainly help them within debates to prepare their arguments and rebuttals (as litigators will still do in the courtroom when they can instantly question it about relevant case law that may come up (and so will judges)), but it cannot perform for them. As assessment shifts away from writing and towards performative assessment, debate is an excellent performative assessment to include.
(2) It presents a model for learning in the classroom. The best debate teams are structured with a director, a head coach, multiple assistant coaches, layers of debaters (beginners, “JV”, “varsity”), and, nowadays, technology. All of these individuals collaborate to produce the best ideas and research to win debates. For the beginners, I’m sure the coaches are all “ASIs,” but the beginner debaters still have to go in and win the debate regardless of how much their ASI coaches helped them prepare. We unpack this model more in this paper (pages 184-7), but it’s a model for human-computer collaboration that works. [Note: ASI is “artificial superior intelligence”].
(3) This model represents how we will relate to AIs. Beyond the classroom, we’ll need to learn how to relate to Ais that are smarter than us and we’ll all have our own personal Ais and AI assistants. We all live and work with people who are smarter than us in different ways, so this is not as scary as it appears. ‘Just because someone at work is smarter or more creative than you doesn’t mean you don’t have to show up, and it doesn’t mean your ideas aren’t important.
(4) This model helps “develop” what I might call “necessary human” skills. What do I mean by “necessary human skills?” I mean attributes such as courage, an ability to collaborate (with humans and machines), responsibility, patience, kindness, resilience, and caring. These are not things we can outsource to machines. In debate, humans learn how to work together, how to be responsible for their part of the debate/performance, have patience, be kind, and care. The premium placed on intelligence will decline in a world of intelligent machines. That is a reality, but the value of these other attributes will increase.
(5) Debate teaches you to “learn to learn.” After you debate for a while, you can “crunch” a new topic on your own. Given the rate of change, “adults” will need to be able to do this to thrive. Entire industries will come and go in very short periods of time. If you can’t learn to learn, you are toast. Tomorrow, a machine might complete a job you are doing today in its entirety or render your unique human contribution so small that your pay collapses.
(6) Conversation. Debate helps you participate in the societal conversation on these issues. Debate isn’t just about “arguing;” good debaters are also “synthesizers,” and success requires collaboration with many others, including even your opponents.
(7) Communication. Yes, you must communicate to debate.
(8) Industry says they need people who can collaborate and communicate. These “soft/durable” skills are the #1 skill set in demand by employers, and they don’t think our high school and college graduates have them.
Regardless of what the new “Future” will look like, we know the world today’s 9th graders and college freshmen will graduate into will be quite different than the one we are currently in. Regardless of that world, we know people will need to learn, to learn to learn, to communicate, to collaborate, and to develop important capabilities such as being patient and kind. I think debate can help with all of these. Of course, I’m not just saying it, but I (through the collaboration of other people and AIs) developed some ideas as to how to make this work. These ideas are based on some research and reasoning. I hope you use them to build a debate program if you don’t have one or expand one if you already do. I hope you support your teachers in using it in the classroom. Maybe it will become a more popular instructional method than the papers Ais can write. There are better ways to teach critical thinking than writing papers :)
Bauschard, Stefan and Coverstone, Alan and Rao, P. Anand and Rao, Sebastian, Beyond Algorithmic Solutions: The Significance of Academic Debate for Learning Assessment and Skill Cultivation in the AI World (September 4, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4567346 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4567346 Thank you to the Cottesmore School for sponsoring this paper.
Education Innovators Podcast with Eric Byron!
Related: -- All the research about AI and the Ais + debate and human deep learning (which includes debate) --
Bauschard, Stefan and Quidwai, Sabba, Deep Intelligence: Fostering Human Deep Learning, Amplifying Our Intelligence, and Supporting a Human Renaissance (November 2, 2023). Available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4621210
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