Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The first article I ever wrote here was about my Alma Mater no longer naming any specific Liberal Arts as areas of study in their marketing. Including my own area — Philosophy — all were piled together under “other”. Recently I discovered they no longer have degree programs in Education, one of their historical strong points. At a recent tea party for Alumni (or nearly “Alumnae” if it weren’t for my own presence there), President Clemo spoke only of expanding their already overflowing number of health profession programs. I must wonder if they even have a department for Humanities anymore. But the shocker was when I was made aware that the College University was planning to have an AI-generated commencement speech.

A petition on Change.Org gives us a glimpse of student reaction:

D’Youville has a reputation in the WNY area for creating outstanding healthcare professionals. As students, we pride ourselves on the human connection that we are able to create through participation in our programs. We are real people who learn how to provide for real people. As students, we experience our “firsts” as we progress in our studies; we have our first patient on fieldwork, we draw blood for the first time, we are able to adjust, prescribe, engage and provide care because of the time we spend at D’Youville.

I respect that. But I have always maintained that the Humanities were the true soul of the institution. To me, D’Youville (under any designation) has been losing its soul for decades as Liberal Arts curricula and faculty have not kept pace with other programs in size and scope.

Whether it’s a gimmick or an attempt to be forward-thinking, whether it disrespects the sensibilities of future health care professionals or just an old philosopher, what does this really mean? Will the future look back at us as Luddites, or even bigoted against some primal version of artificial humanhood? Or do we have a real existential crisis on our hands? Will we better learn how to serve our biological kin by following advice generated by a human-inspired-collated but not quite human voice?

This is part of a greater historical flashpoint that forces us to consider the nature of what it is to be human, and what AI can or cannot (and should and should not) do for us. I am willing to embrace a future filled with AI teachers, workers, and possibly even administrators. But I suggest there ought to be some sacred space left for what is purely human — something sacred within the tribe of the biological beings of our species. Without aggregation or filtering by algorithms from without, we are arguably inefficient and clearly flawed. But perhaps that is the point. We need living art and not just perfect or fractal patterns, music with all its idiosyncracies and not just feedback-tested calculated sounds.

AI may show us ourselves in a new light. It may be honest where we don’t want it to be. But can it truly represent us if it doesn’t share our imperfect individuality? Can an AI commencement speaker impactfully share personal anecdotes? Can it connect with its their audience? We shall see.