Hello Friends!

For those of you impacted by hurricane Ian, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you. If there is anything we at SAIS can do to help, do not hesitate to reach out. The speed at which these storms are intensifying for the last couple of years has been extraordinary.

And, in the wake of hurricane Ian, this October has been spectacular. I hope that all of you are experiencing the same cool and dry temperatures that we have been seeing here in the low country after Ian came through. This is the beginning of fire on the porch season as our house; something I never fail to do if I can justify it.

Even while sitting on the porch, my mind today is on technology and the lightning advances we seem to be seeing right now. Two areas I have been watching closely are artificial intelligence and the metaverse.

Until this point, I have not found AI to be all that interesting or even all that threatening, despite how well I can quote HAL from Space Odyssey. Yes, it’s coming. Yes, we will all have to work with it. Until recently, it has really not struck me as all that impressive. The sleight of hand of getting to the end of an article that includes “this article was written by AI after we gave it 30 prompts!” I have sort of shrugged off.

However, these last few weeks have been a wild ride on the AI front, and I urge you to spend time playing with some of the new AI tools that are out there (see below) and thinking more about how our students will be working with and thinking about AI in their careers and lives, but also how AI might fundamentally shift education and learning. To lure you in, just read this article about AI gaming software that was pushed further to accelerate scientific research through open source use, and it ultimately resulted in predictions of the shape of every known protein. In the art world, AI has been used for a slightly more nefarious uses, like winning a state fair fine arts competition.

For those of you who would like to play around with some of these tools, check out the art/dream tool here (try the prompt “board meeting Van Gogh”), this writing tool, or my favorite, Dall-E2. DallE2 actually had a waitlist to access it for a while, but they opened it up for anyone to use to create original works of art of many kinds. They anticipate that DallE and tools like it may ultimately be used for things like making your own personal movies or books based on prompts and inputs you provide. This brings to the forefront a whole new kind of content generation, potentially free from streaming and other services we currently use. To dive a little more deeply into where AI has come from, where it might be going, and some interesting philosophical questions to consider, check out this article from the Atlantic.

As you and your teams get comfortable with these tools, it is worth learning and thinking more about how artificial intelligence is arriving in our space. Yes, there are articles about how AI makes it easier to cheat. These kinds of stories underscore the need for more deliberate conversations around ethics and honesty, both as students and as they eventually use these tools in their careers and lives. Beyond those fundamentals, how will students develop AI tools and work with them to advance their work? How do we identify and help students develop the skills to critically review what AI creates from their prompts? Further, the skills are students will be using to participate in these incredible developments will be legion. Check out this piece from Scientific American about how AI needs both pragmatists and blue-sky visionaries to develop these tools successfully and thoughtfully. 

If you are still curious about how AI is being used practically in the day to day, check out these developments:

  • For the mathematicians (and those who find new math mindboggling), AI has found a new way to multiply numbers to speed up computer processing time. 
  • AI also is learning to scan breast biopsies to help prevent needless surgeries and identify cancer identifiers that might be missed
  • AI has also learned how to generate audio. Audio LM creates additional, consistent, music based on a prompt. Here is the MIT piece on the topic

October is Halloween month, so it makes sense to delve into AI’s dark side. This piece describes some of the bigger challenges, namely that systems can build in biases, lack transparency, and generally manipulate users. Given the impact social media with its many algorithms and dopamine creating widgets has had on our society, these concerns bear watching. Already we see things like artificial imposter voices that can be used to make it seem like someone you know is calling you. These nefarious advances require researchers and creating to keep up to help prevent fraud.

Finally, beyond AI, we have the looming reality of the metaverse, in whatever form it might ultimately take. The company formerly known as Facebook, Meta, has been pushing the hardest to create some form of metaverse reality in their version, although there are others that are creating these worlds that essentially bring together the internet, virtual reality (VR), social networking, and gaming. This article gives a good feeling for what that Meta virtual reality is starting to look like, and the reporter did dig in to go on at every hour of the day to get a broad feeling for it. Most alarming, but perhaps unsurprising, to me is how many children she notes are already on the platform. This may mean that we will be seeing more of the metaverse playing a role in our schools sooner rather than later. She also notes that there are people creating day jobs within this virtual reality, perhaps making Ready Player One that much closer to a reality.

If you are looking to dip your foot into the metaverse, you could experiment the way we at SAIS did and the way higher education seems to be learning, through VR. VR and its close relative augmented reality (AR) have been more classroom and school friendly, and a good amount of progress is being made here. You might recall that Labster was available during the pandemic, and now we are seeing more experiments with other kinds of VR in the classroom. Higher education is getting deeper into this adoption as a way to both reach more students and reach students in a way that may create deeper learning for the digital generation. This week’s FutureU podcast with Michael Horn and Jeff Selingo around VR adoption in higher education and the possibilities of the metaverse provides an overview with how a  couple of universities are adopting this technology, as well as some of its downsides (available at the link or wherever you listen to your podcasts).

Here at SAIS, we wanted to play with VR a bit, so we engaged in a group virtual reality gaming experience as part of our staff retreat in August. All of us donned virtual reality headsets and played games together, but we also flew around Google Earth, danced, and any number of other activities. As you know, the SAIS office is entirely virtual, and some virtual offices are starting to hold virtual reality meetings. This was our way of starting to explore what this evolving trend looks and feels like as it will continue to evolve and invariable draw us all in.

The advances in AI and quantum computing (here is a simple overview) are bound to accelerate the evolution of the metaverse and open up many more opportunities in VR and AR, particularly in education. Understanding the possibilities of the metaverse in learning and thinking through how it will impact our students and schools will be crucial as we all take this technology turnpike together. We look forward to exploring these evolutions with you both in person and in the metaverse!