Guest Blog Post by (Former) Tutor Coordinator, Jennifer Rengachary
Spoiler alert if you haven’t finished the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy: Deep Thought, a supercomputer created to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question of life, the Universe, and everything, falls short of producing a meaningful response.
As some of you know, I translate scientific manuscripts for my day job. One of the most common questions I hear is, “Aren’t there computer programs that can do that?” In a word: Sure! In two words: Not well! Even when the software gets all of the word meanings right, it’s clear that a robot wrote it. The technology is improving, but some experts argue that machines will never fully replace human translators. Language is too essentially human to outsource.
Automated teaching has similar limits. A lot of schoolwork occurs online these days. This makes for less paper waste, provides access to a rich world of resources, and doesn’t work at all when the signal strength is weak. Yesterday, it was weak (with the workshop in a different room than usual, which is apparently located inside some kind of WiFi Pit of Despair… you know the kind; it gives you just enough signal to get your hopes up, says it’s loading, and then… nope… wait, it’s getting it… nope…). Even when they’re working properly though, computers are merely an enhancement to, not a substitute for, the human touch.
This is why it’s so important for us to provide one-on-one, in-person tutoring for the uniquely human skill of communicating through writing. The career universe into which our students will graduate will probably be uncertain and constantly changing, with some jobs disappearing to the cyborg, but I feel confident that being able to write well will secure them a place in the professional market and in the world.
This week the Marygrove students continued their science fiction unit, imagining just that sort of future world where robots, machines, and computers can do what it impossible today.