Learning as a collective: Departing Plato’s Cave | Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. | 14 Min Read

July 5, 2023

I’m not getting myself all worked up over how generative AI is going to revolutionize the world of education. I’m not spending too much time trying to find my bearings and make sense of this new world we entered since OpenAI’s successful promotion strategy of ChatGPT. AI didn’t emerge out of nowhere on November 30, 2022. We could all see this coming when IBM’s Watson outperformed two former Jeopardy champions[1]Or Big Blue defeating Kasparov, demonstrating the superior information retrieval capabilities of a fast processor and large memory bank compared to the human brain. We often hear this false comparison, and it’s no wonder we feel uneasy about AI. We tend to view the brain as one big computer, overlooking its organic, emergent network. We fear becoming obsolete.

In response, we build walls to protect ourselves, afraid that AI will take our jobs, send us hurling into uncertainty, and enslave us all in its relentless quest to purchase cheaper paperclips. We call out to celebrate (reclaim?) the attributes that supposedly make us human, uniquely human. You can pick out of a hat which attributes you want to defend, it doesn’t matter. We build walls, the human-centered design of fortifications that will keep us safe from the AI onslaught. These walls aren’t cocoons for our metamorphosis or the nourishing placenta of our re-birth. No. These walls are built to preserve, capture, and perhaps even fossilize what makes us uniquely human. Let’s celebrate that because AI is a threat to everything that doesn’t make humans stand out.

Behind these walls, we are erecting monuments to our human exceptionalism. We gather around these monuments to worship our own image, gods looking over the world, able to extract anywhere inside the trophic pyramid. “God is dead, long live the gods,” is more accurate than Nietzsche’s original quip. We believe we have the right, nay the duty, to ignore the laws of Nature so that we may write our own. We are humans, essentially unique and superior among all.

Reclaiming what makes us uniquely human is the same treacherous game we’ve been playing all along. It is a game of separation and domination, extraction, and extinction. The walls we build aren’t protecting us from AI’s Trojan Horse; instead, they exclude the natural world. As we dance around the monuments to our human exceptionalism, we disconnect ourselves from other forms of life, celebrating…

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1 Or Big Blue defeating Kasparov

Benjamin Freud, Ph.D.

Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Coconut Thinking, an advisory that supports schools and learning organizations to co-create, co-develop, co-stress test, and co-implement ideas that nurture the conditions for emergent learning. Benjamin is also the Head of Upper School at Green School, Bali. He was previously the Whole School Leader of Learning and Teaching at Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Thailand. He was the Academic Coordinator at Misk Schools, one of the most prestigious and high-profile school in the kingdom. In 2018-2019, he was also the Head of Upper Primary and Middle School at Misk. Prior to this, he was Vice-Principal of the Middle School and High School at the Harbour School in Hong Kong. He holds a Ph.D. in History, an MSc in Education, an MBA, an MA in International Relations, and a BA in International Affairs. Benjamin was born and grew up in Paris, France. He moved to the U.S. when he was 15 and spent 11 years there in different cities before living in the U.K., Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and now Bali, Indonesia. He started his career in consulting for Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, working with people whose ambitions were no less than to change the world. This experience had a profound effect on Benjamin's outlook on education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.