New(ish) from me: Tech world sees trust as a weakness not a glue

Over at the Toronto Star, I discuss the question of trust and tech, focused on (wait for it…) Large Language Models and ChatGPT. Far too many of the more-optimistic takes on chatbots, say, how they will help people better express themselves, fail to take into account the importance of trust in the production of knowledge, focusing on the words rather than the process:

Consider the hope that ChatGPT might help weaker and marginalized students. In fact, it will almost certainly do the opposite, because it will undermine our trust in these students. …

The value of the essay, or the introductory letter, is inseparable from the process that produces it. It reflects the writer’s thinking. You’re in deep trouble if you can’t trust that something was written by the person who claims to have written it because you can’t be sure they’ve demonstrated their mastery of a subject, or that they are who they claim to be.

In a ChatGPT world I’m going to be more, not less, suspicious of the well-written letter or essay by an applicant from an unfamiliar school or country; more, not less, suspicious of plodding but mostly accurate writing. For those who would save the essay by disaggregating it and grading the parts, know that all writing can be faked if it isn’t happening right in front of you.

What should we do? The first thing is to recognize the problem for the monumental challenge that it is:

Responsible societies place guardrails around innovation processes. Drugs have saved countless lives, but we don’t let Pfizer dump a new compound into our water supply just to see what happens. The smallest academic research projects undergo more vetting than these epoch-altering billion-dollar gambles. At the very least, governments must prevent companies from recklessly testing these technologies publicly without considering their society-altering effects.

When trust is treated as unimportant, bad things happen. Crypto investors learned this the hard way. For the rest of us — students, educators, politicians, citizens — our lesson has just begun.

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