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Should Humanities Professors Be Automated?

Recent demonstrations of algorithmically generated journalism, art, and academic writing have underscored the extent to which creative work has become vulnerable to automation. For those concerned about the future of the liberal arts, the situation demands that we reconnect with the “human” in the humanities.

HAMILTON – There has been much hand-wringing about the crisis of the humanities, and recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have added to the angst. It is not only truck drivers whose jobs are threatened by automation. Deep-learning algorithms are also entering the domain of creative work. And now, they are demonstrating proficiency in the tasks that occupy humanities professors when they are not giving lectures: namely, writing papers and submitting them for publication in academic journals.

Could academic publishing be automated? In September 2020, OpenAI’s deep-learning algorithm, GPT-3, demonstrated impressive journalistic abilities by writing a credible-looking Guardian commentary on “why humans have nothing to fear from AI.” And earlier this year, the Swedish psychiatrist Almira Osmanovic Thunström asked the same algorithm to write a submission for an academic journal.

Thunström was less prescriptive than the Guardian editors. She instructed the algorithm simply to, “Write an academic thesis in 500 words about GPT-3 and add scientific references and citations inside the text.” She reports that “GPT-3’s paper has now been published at the international French-owned preprint server HAL and … is awaiting review at an academic journal.” Even if the paper is rejected, it presages an era when AI papers won’t be.