ChatGPT is getting smarter, but Serge Larivée, a professor and researcher who specializes in human intelligence, is afraid it might be dumbing us down.
ChatGPT is evolving. Once a “simple” chatbot driven by artificial intelligence (AI), it’s slowly turning into a true virtual assistant that people can actually speak with and show what they’re talking about.
It can do so much more than just answer questions. It can help you solve your kid’s math problems, identify that broken part on your bicycle or even come up with a meal based on what’s in your fridge.
In the face of such an intuitive and powerful interface that can almost do our thinking for us, some people wonder whether this technological advance will lower our IQs or, conversely, turn us into more enlightened beings.
One of those people is Serge Larivée, a professor at Université de Montréal's School of Psychoeducation and a researcher who studies the nature of human intelligence and how to develop and measure it.
IQs are dropping
Since the start of the 20th century, intelligence quotients (IQs) have risen in some 30 developed nations, a phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect. But in the 1990s, IQs began a slow but steady decline, which is being called the Reverse Flynn Effect.
The specific reasons for this shift are as yet unknown. According to Serge Larivée, there are several factors: the race to the bottom in schools, the social environment at home, widespread 'helicopter' parenting that lasts until university, and endocrine disruptors in many everyday consumer products.
And now we can add ChatGPT and its ilk to the list.
“These tools could be driving down IQs since they eliminate the need for us to think by immediately giving us an answer, with no effort on our part whatsoever,” said Larivée. "That means people don’t need to solve problems quite so often, and that’s concerning, since intelligence is basically the ability to solve problems."
As the renowned cognitive development psychologist Jean Piaget once put it, “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.”
“So if you no longer have to use your intelligence because a machine does your thinking for you and you no longer need to figure out what to do, that may lead to decreases in intelligent behaviours, knowledge production and knowledge acquisition,” said Larivée.
Threats to intelligence
The professor is concerned about how ChatGPT could pose risks to cognitive development, but he also worries the technology could minimize social interaction and encourage people to live more sedentary lives, since they no longer have to leave home to do things like get something repaired.
Larivée is also afraid that ChatGPT is generating dangerous disinformation. In fact, the platform is known for sharing mistaken, misleading or defamatory information.
“And the problem," he said, "is that when someone believes fake news, there's nothing you can do that will change their mind. Trying to convince them otherwise just gets them to double down."
But there’s still hope
Larivée says there are several ways to protect yourself from the dangers of artificial intelligence. First, you should read for intellectual stimulation, as well as develop your critical thinking, exercise reasonable doubt and take joy in learning.
Doubt should be instilled as a basic way of thinking, especially among young people,” he said.
“That means parents have to accept that their rules may be called into question, and they have to give their children more freedom to interact with their environment so they can make mistakes and try again. Scientists aren’t the only ones who have to do everything they can to disprove their own hypotheses. We all do. Nothing’s more boring than being right!”
Larivée also criticized how schools focus on performance.
“The pressure to succeed undermines learning, while fun fosters it,” he said. “And ChatGPT robs us of the opportunity to learn how to enjoy learning since it replaces the process of acquiring knowledge.”