By John Macgregor – S6 pupil at St Columba’s RC High School in Dunfermline
On Saturday the 19th of November 2022, a group of S6 students from St. Columba’s High School attended the Cardinal Winning Lecture at the University of Glasgow. We joined pupils and staff from schools across the country as well as university staff and students for this important event. After a tiring early start on a Saturday morning, I was not disappointed by the event and left it feeling very enlightened.
After arriving in Glasgow, we first attended Mass at the University Memorial Chapel. I was taken aback by the beauty of the chapel and its breathtaking stained-glass windows, high ceilings and overall impressive architecture. In addition, the choir sang stunningly throughout the service, and really made it a special event. Once Mass was finished, we walked through the University campus towards Bute Hall, where the Cardinal Winning Lecture took place.
The lecture was delivered by Professor Paolo Benanti, who is a highly intelligent and impressive man, with such expertise on Artificial Intelligence that he is an advisor to Pope Francis! We felt very honoured to be in the company of such a successful Catholic figure, and he was truly fascinating to listen to. The lecture itself was titled ‘RenAIssance? Challenges of Artificial Intelligence to education and formation’ and it gave us an insight into the evolution of A.I. and the impact it is having, and will have, on our society.
It was a very relevant topic for me and my peers as we are growing up in a world bombarded with ever evolving technology and artificial intelligence. This has undoubtedly had a massive impact on our education and lives in general, ramped up significantly by the Covid-19 Pandemic as we were forced to study for exams at home, with our only access to support from teachers being through online learning.
One interesting example that Professor Benanti talked about was the use of virtual reality. He referenced the US Military and how they were able to utilise virtual reality technology to simulate and train soldiers on specific tasks. He related this new way of using technology to education, and it made me wonder if any aspects about our current system could change and benefit from virtual reality. Perhaps in practical subjects, such as the sciences and arts could use virtual reality to simulate and teach certain experiments or techniques. This could save time and resources, whilst providing a better quality of learning. However, I think it would be a negative thing if our education system lost its face-to-face aspect, as it hinders your ability to make human connections and get more detailed and personalised help with learning.
Another talking point from the lecture was the use of A.I. technology on things like doctor’s examinations. Professor Benanti demonstrated how doctors’ appointments in the future could take place through apps, where we would speak to a doctor through a video call, and all of our medical history, current diagnoses and recommended treatments were presented by Artificial Intelligence. It was a very interesting subject to listen to because it made me question whether such highly regarded, skilled professions could potentially be taken over by A.I. It could render the long, difficult path of study and experience needed for careers, such as doctors, totally useless! On the other hand, though, the use of A.I. in these areas could potentially prove very beneficial to many, such as people who are unable to travel to their appointments for specific medical reasons.
I was most fascinated by the way Professor Benanti brought in the subject of psychology and its relationship with Artificial Intelligence. He stated that 95% of our brain activity was through the ‘fast’ part of our brain, which is used for daily, common tasks like socialising, watching TV and so on. The leftover 5% is our ‘slow’ brain, which is what we use for things like critical thinking and problem solving. What I took from this point was that if we keep allowing A.I. to do more and more things for us in the future, it will slowly turn the 95% of our ‘fast’ brain to 100%. This in turn would make it impossible for humans to be able to stop, think and reflect on things critically. This could pose a threat to education, as it would undoubtedly limit our academic capabilities. However, on the flip side, if we didn’t use the 5% ‘slow’ part of our brain, it wouldn’t allow us as a society to invent and evolve A.I. technologies to start with! These kinds of dilemmas relating to A.I. not only highlighted how important the subject is for our future, but it personally captivated my attention and forced me to think hard about the ethics surrounding technology generally.
At the end of the lecture, a student from another school asked for advice from Professor Benanti about how young people should use the phones in our pockets. His response really struck me as he stressed the importance of being careful over the information we share on our devices. He mentioned how technology companies can exploit our data and privacy, which I found thought-provoking as we probably don’t realise just how much personal information is shared on our phones, and how it could potentially affect our futures.
I think the main message I took away from Professor Benanti’s Lecture was that the future of A.I. is not simply about replacing people with technology, but rather about recognising the skills, gifts and talents given to each individual. He emphasised that A.I. could do powerful, beneficial things, however we must carefully consider the ethical issues around technology before jumping to use it for absolutely every aspect of our lives. Overall, myself and my group really enjoyed the Cardinal Winning Lecture, and it left a lasting impression on us, with a lot of vital ethical questions to think about relating to the future of society and education.