As AI increases in use and popularity, the profession of the social sciences will change.
AI will eventually change the daily job of the social scientist in terms of research, teaching, and administration. There are ethical issues of plagiarism, defined as “pretending to write something that is not yours – even if it is stolen from a robot, not a person.” It will also change personal, “off-the-job” tasks, and even relationships between people.
In this post, I will focus on the job of the social scientist and how it will change.
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Let’s take a moment to anticipate the future. The future is vast because the possibilities are numerous. With such complexity, we need a framework to guide our thoughts.
The AI Future in research, teaching, and administration
A good framework to think about the AI-assisted future is to consider the mechanical, mundane tasks in research, teaching, and administration. The AI will automate those mechanical, mundane tasks to free the researcher, teacher, and administrator to focus on higher-level, creative tasks.
Social Science Research
In research that features analysis of data, mechanical and mundane tasks include, among others, coding statistical or qualitative software and conducting diagnostics to understand the data.
Imagine a future in which, through simple conversation – written or verbal – the AI-assistant will find the data on the internet, download it, and provide a detailed description of the data and its problems and potential for answering your research question. Knowing “how to code from scratch” will be unnecessary, as the AI will build sophisticated code behind the scenes and provide fast and reliable answers to specific questions. The AI will also help the researcher to refine the questions, and, through conversation, ask better ones.
The AI will then provide a detailed report, with text, tables, and figures, detailed methodology, and code (syntax) for others to check if need be. R, an open-source statistical program, will probably be the background of this capability.
Social Science Teaching
Already, students use Word to spell-check and Grammarly to proofread. Autocompletion and AI suggestions of sentences are fast becoming the norm. Few question the use of these AI tools. Eventually, all students will use ChatGPT or its future (e.g. Google Bard) equivalent to provide the basic text that they will then edit.
Imagine a future in which all written essays are AI-assisted. This, perhaps more than anything, frightens scholars. They think: It will lead to a decline in thought. AI will become a kind of addiction, a dependency…
… much like the internet is today?
Imagine an alternative to the thought that scares scholars. Imagine the elimination of uninspired essay assignments on subjects one could easily look-up on Wikipedia. Instead of a decline in thought, the AI will be a helpful assistant that unlocks new heights of creative thinking about the relationships between concepts and the construction of theories.
Social Science Administration
Administration is filled with mechanical, mundane activities: meeting notes, emails and other correspondence, budget construction and evaluation, and so on.
Imagine a future in which the AI is an assistant to the administrator. Note taking will be automatic and harmonized with notes from previous meetings. Emails are automated, set in the proper tone and style of the administrator. The administrator can, as the researcher does, engage in conversation with the AI to parse the budgets.
The administrator can then focus on improving the workplace. Instead of a burden that social scientists would rather avoid, administration can become a creative endeavor in which they can spend more time meeting with people and meeting their needs, or improving the conditions for research and teaching for everyone involved. And, they won’t have to work as hard to do this vital job in academia.
In sum, think of it this way: the AI is an assistant and you are the director. You direct various AI-assistants to produce the best research, teaching, and administration.
Right now, these tools are primitive and scattered. In years to come, we will marvel at how we managed the annoying minor difficulties we deal with now in linking sundry AI tools together to help us with our work. Eventually, there will be a plethora of excellent tools to choose from. And for those who prefer a walled garden, like Apple is now, there will be a single suite of linked AI products. Microsoft is building this now. Google is not far behind.
Joshua K. Dubrow is a PhD from The Ohio State University and a Professor of Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
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