Wisdom in the age of artificial intelligence

Recently, Harvard Business Review released a new bundle of articles and pieces called “The Age of AI: How it will impact business, industry, and society.”  Educators have been grappling with how to respond to the rapid changes in automation, technology and globalization for over a decade now.

Remembers this original “Shift Happens” video?

It was first shown over 10 years ago, before YouTube was even used for wide dissemination. It’s since been updated a number of times – the last version the creators did is here, and others have created a 2017 version – but I love the original if not just for the nostalgia of remembering MySpace, then for this oft repeated line that has now become mantra in education innovation conversations:


This is an important conversation, and in the last ten years, answers of all sorts have arisen in response. Learning needs to be personalized, authentic, skills- and project-based. Students need to have agency, voice, choice, passion, and autonomy. Schools need to innovate, redesign, prototype, and break down walls. Teachers need to understand global trends, reflect, anticipate, respond, and transform their practice.

And yet, in the midst of this, we have to remember that there is no one right answer, no magic bullet to it all. We can feel like we’re forever grasping at the next buzzword to provide the antidote to that knotted feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we ponder, “Are we actually doing what will matter for these young people in their future?”

In the rise of artificial intelligence – artificial in the sense of robots, and in the sense of being feigned – what we need more than ever is wisdom.

Wisdom is a strictly human possibility. Wisdom requires experience, knowledge, and judgement, and it requires an intuitive ability to apply these traits to turn belief into action.

A machine can be very, very intelligent. It can accumulate, process, and even create all sorts of things, but it can never be wise. Artificial intelligence operates within the realm of mathematics: it operates with logic, probability and statistics. And while this mathematical language gives rise to truly remarkable and complex possibilities and applications, it will never give rise to discernment or sagacity, to knowing why something should or should not be done.

No matter what new programs or credential or redesigns we implement in education, one thing that must pervade it all is the need to be wise. Knowledge is cheap and intelligence is programmable, so the best opportunities we can provide for our students are those in which they can develop and apply their own wisdom. In the age of artificial intelligence, we need to be more human than ever.

As we explore changes to traditional curricula, timetables, and physical structures, we must remember that wisdom cannot be imparted nor can it be gained alone or from technology. Whatever it is that we choose to do, we must do it by connecting with our students, our students with each other, and all of us to the human experience. We must make ourselves and our students future-ready by being here in the now and developing that which can never be replaced, that which we have understood for a long, long time: knowing when to be serene, when to be courageous, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

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