An Encounter With the AI Hype Industry

The essay is still not dead

George Dillard


Photo by Product School on Unsplash

I attended a professional development seminar on AI in the classroom the other day. The presenter (I won’t name him here, because I don’t want to pick on him as an individual), a nationally-known consultant on educational technology, took us through the usual tech-enthusiast talking points:

  • AI will kill zillions of existing jobs, and kids need to learn to prepare for the workplace of the future.
  • This means that the most important skill we can teach kids is “prompt engineering.”
  • If we’re not teaching kids to leverage AI, we’re holding them back. The example he used was a teenager who got ChatGPT to pump out dozens of college essays, implying that the kids who are actually producing their own writing samples are chumps.
  • He kept saying stuff like: “Get ready, take a deep breath — the essay is dead!”

The presenter took us through a bunch of standard “look at what AI can do” exercises:

  • He started with: “Don’t you hate looking up recipes on the internet?” I had not previously considered this a significant burden, but whatever. Then he had us get ChatGPT to build us a recipe based on the ingredients we had in our fridges. It spat out a recipe for cauliflower tacos. OK, fine. This is also something that a dozen websites (featuring real recipes, made by people who can taste) can do. The guy then went on to warn us that sometimes the recipes that the chatbots make are “disgusting,” and that we shouldn’t make the recipes if we think there is something off about them. Wow, the future looks bright!
  • Then he had us use AI to write an email to a colleague. ChatGPT quickly churned out a bunch of text that vaguely alluded to the topic I had put into the prompt. He took us through several iterations, refining the email — make it shorter! Change the tone! Add emojis! In the end, I had a semi-acceptable email. The whole process took about as long as simply writing the email would have.
  • Next, we produced a lesson plan with AI. I asked the chatbot for a lesson plan on the fall of the Roman Republic. It told me that I should give a lecture to my students about the important factors in the fall of the republic (no, it didn’t specify…