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AI give us food for thought

Updated: Mar 9

About AI and critical thinking...


When we look back through history, the printing press, the telephone, television, the internet and smartphones are all included in the chapter labeled “technology that was initially feared to atrophy the human brain”. 


AI generated image of the Thinker
AI can help us to develop our critical thinking skills

We can, and should apply critical thinking to determine whether they in fact have or did. While we are at it, let’s also consider an edit to the chapter, and include AI.


Can AI help us humans to improve our critical thinking skills, or is it going to ultimately atrophy our brains?


The answers to this question are many, can each be easily be the focus of a PhD dissertation, and quite frankly, could be the work of a lifetime. For now, I’lll focus on the time in which we are living. 


The answer is is not inherent to the technology, but directly linked to the choices made by the humans using it.


To level set, let’s define critical thinking as the analysis of “available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments in order to form a judgement by the application of rational skeptical and unbiased analyses and evaluation.” [1] In simpler terms “a questioning, [or] challenging approach to knowledge and perceived wisdom.” [2]


If we use the definitions above, then AI is a powerful tool that can absolutely complement humans’ desire and enhance their ability to exercise critical thinking. 


Among many skills and functions, critical thinking requires:


  • Observation

  • Analysis

  • Inference

  • Communication

  • Problem Solving



Take observation, analysis and inference. 

Given access to sources like video, images and text; AI’s fact finding ability is simply mind blowing. It can analyze vast and disparate data sets and “connect the dots” that we humans can’t even see, never mind connect. 


Humans could take AI’s observations, analysis and inferences at its word, OR - could use them as a starting point, or yet another data point to use in their critical thinking evaluation process. This is the same choice that humans visiting a library, using Wikipedia today or the trusty Encyclopedia Britannica (depending on the project) had to make in the late 1900’s. Fast forward to the 2020’s, I’d argue that those using Google, solely as a starting tool, are at a disadvantage, having to sort “wheat” from “chaff” in the form of paid advertisement disguised as fact. 


When it comes to AI, mental atrophy is driven by the choice the human makes. Those who use AI as part of, not in lieu of, their critical thinking process will only get faster and deeper into the critical thinking evaluation cycles that matter most.


Communication 

The impact of AI on the communication elements of critical thinking is super interesting as it has multiple vectors to consider. 


On the “ingestion” vector of the process (gathering data), AI can certainly level the playing field and close the communication gap between the neurodivergent and the neurotypical. Everyone consumes data and information differently. AI can make accessible a world of data and information that may be invisible when presented in only one form of communication.


On the “dissemination” vector, AI can be used to communicate the results in such way that the key elements of the message (the valuable substance) is not lost because there was only one way to present the information.  Surely a way to democratize the products of critical thinking.


Problem solving

To state the obvious, when given guidelines and rules, AI problem solving skills are simply next level PFM (pure freaking magic). Making those problem solving skills available to those who want to test a theory present a clear advantage and benefit to the development of critical thinking skills.


I wise woman once taught me that “kids hold back no truth…” - Which is to say that in their innocence, they’ll speak exactly what they believe to be truth and appropriate, without bias, or filter; but we still have to analyze what they say. 


AI is still like a kid, and the information it gives is not always 100% accurate or correct, but if you are problem solving and brainstorming, it may give you some options that will certainly test your own biases and preconceptions. As part of the critical thinking process, evaluating even some plausible “hallucinations”may yield a vital piece of information that will help the critical thinking process run it’s course; if the human chooses to exercise the brain.


“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” - Marie Curie

Should we fear AI? Can AI help us humans to improve our critical thinking skills, or is it going to ultimately atrophy our brains? 


Without a doubt, for the open minded and diligent who want to improve their critical thinking skills, the answer is YES.


A deeper question to consider is “in how many ways will AI help [or hinder] humans’ critical thinking skills?”.  The answers will be many and will vary over time. And yes, the research will put to the test our critical thinking skills for sure!


What do you think about AI’s ability to improve [or hinder] our critical thinking skills?


Sources (Thanks Wiki!)

[1] Edward M. Glaser. "Defining Critical Thinking". The International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking (ICAT, US)/Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved 22 March 2017.

[2] Judge, Brenda; McCreery, Elaine; Jones, Patrick (2009). Critical Thinking Skills for Education Students. SAGE. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-84445-556-0.

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