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Dr. Sharon Lauricella; the Future of Artificial Intelligence

by Jonathan van Bilsen

The world is changing at an extremely rapid pace. I have just read the rate of transformation accelerates every decade, which means in twenty years, the rate of change will be four times what it is today. In other words, we will see 20,000 years of change in this century alone.

A large part of this conversion is due to artificial intelligence or AI for short. Anyone who has a Google Home or Amazon Alexa, is well integrated into AI, and that is only the beginning.

I had a fantastic opportunity to sit down with Dr. Sharon Lauricella, a professor at Ontario Tech University and a specialist in communications, which of course, is a large proponent of AI.

Dr. Lauricella was born in the US, lived in the UK, in both Cambridge and Edinburgh, and for the past twenty years, has made her home in Durham Region. She is a recipient of numerous awards in her field and has recently co-authored a book entitled ‘Ludic Pedagogy’.

Sharon explained how stressful the first year of university could be for someone. Everything is new, cramming for tests, making new friends, and the only fun seems to be on weekends, thirsty Thursdays and Frosh week. “It is extremely important to do whatever it takes to make learning fun,” Sharon explained.

“We try and gamefy lessons which means we take a course concept and try to have fun with it. We want the students to interact and connect with each other.”

Sharon has embraced technology and uses software out of Harvard, called Perusal. She explained, “Normally a student receives an assignment, takes it home, studies on their own, makes notes on their own, and so on. This platform [Perusal] allows students to work together, and bounce ideas and information off each other.

Sharon gets her love of teaching from her father, who taught as well. In fact, she told me she has never missed a September in school, throughout her entire life. She enjoyed school immensely, and spent her third year of University in Edinburgh, Scotland. From there it was suggested by one of her Profs, she should attend the University of Cambridge. Sharon was surprised at the concept, and set out to achieve several scholarships, landing one which covered her term there.

Upon her return from Europe, Sharon taught in Boston for a few years and then had an opportunity at Ontario Tech University, known at that time as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Sharon teaches everything from first year to fourth year, including public speaking, communications in conflict and alternative delivery courses. Of course, I had to ask what the latter one meant. “We do about three weeks of on line courses, and then we go camping,’ Sharon explained. Apparently, it is a great deal of fun, and has really gone over well.

I wanted to know a little more about Dr. Lauricella’s new book ‘Ludic Pedagogy.’ She explained, the word Ludic means to play or to play games and Pedagogy is teaching and learning. In other words, the book is all about teaching and learning through fun and games.

As a professional in the communications industry, Artificial Intelligence plays an integral role in the classroom. Sharon explained how AI, specifically Chat GPT, is based on information found on the internet. Which means it may not be accurate and in many cases is outright wrong.

Using large language models, a term for computer generated chat essays, such as those generated by programs like Chat GPT, read very clinical and are quite boring. Great advances, however, are being made in this area. You can now ask it to write 500 words on climbing Mount Everest, but write it from the perspective of a fifteen year old, or write it as if John Lennon was speaking. I tried it and it really is incredible.

As an educator, Sharon can immediately pick out essays written by large language models. In order to avoid students using the software to replace their creativity, she is now phrasing her assignments in a way which asks for personal perspectives or their own viewpoints. She went on to say, chat programs can be used as a foundation or to get ideas and even to correct grammar, but should not be used beyond that.

Dr. Lauricella explained, the success in using large language models is in how you prompt it. You have to tell it exactly what you want. Computer generated voices in the past, have sounded very monotone and sterile, but companies like Google with their Google Home speakers, and Amazon with its Alexa system, have bridged the gap between human and synthetic voices.

Another issue, which came from our conversation, was the copyright laws and how to adhere to them. Sharon explained how sources should always be cited. “This becomes a problem, because by using chat systems, you only know the program which composed it and not the original source.”

I asked Dr. Lauricella how exactly these large language models work. “What these programs do,” Sharon explained, “is they consult the internet and then put a big net over the sentences, the language and the paragraphs. Because it is predictive technology, it knows what words follow others and consequently form a sentence using proper grammar, etc.” A good example of this is, when you are texting or emailing, it fills in words which it assumes you would use next.

Interestingly Chat systems do not learn your personal style, no matter how often you use them. However, what I did discover was, you could feed it numerous pieces you have written and then ask it to write something based on your writing skill. The results are amazing.

For those of you wondering, I did not use Chat GPT or any other AI software to write this, or any of my other articles. I hope it will never come to that.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.

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