The Journey from Clay Tablets to AI: How Libraries Have Adapted
The world of libraries has witnessed an extraordinary transformation, evolving from ancient Sumerian clay tablets, symbolising the earliest form of organised information storage, to the grand libraries of Alexandria with their Egyptian papyrus scrolls. This journey continued through the European printing press era, significantly expanding library collections. In the modern era, this evolution has been marked by the advent of the internet, dial-up connections, and the rise of web-based search engines like Yahoo and Google, reshaping access to information.
Generative AI: A Double-Edged Sword
The recent introduction of generative AI and large language models (LLMs) has sparked considerable debate. This technology, exemplified by tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard, promises a new frontier in research and information gathering. It allows users to generate essays or conduct complex searches with simple prompts, seemingly fulfilling every researcher’s dream. However, this technological marvel comes with its own set of challenges.
The Challenges of AI in Academic Research
While AI tools offer streamlined information access, they also present risks, including biases, misinformation, and a lack of critical appraisal in the information they generate. The issue of disinformation is particularly concerning, as these tools often lack the capability to differentiate between accurate and misleading content. This calls into question the reliability of AI-generated references, which can often be fictitious or inaccurate.
The Importance of Critical Evaluation and the CRAAP Test
In response to these challenges, there’s a renewed emphasis on critical thinking and evaluation skills. Researchers are encouraged to apply a modified version of the CRAAP test – now referred to as the CRAP test – to assess the credibility of information. This involves evaluating the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose, and existence of the information provided by AI tools. Such a method ensures that researchers don’t passively accept AI-generated content but actively engage with it to validate its legitimacy.
AI as a Tool, Not a Replacement
Despite its drawbacks, AI should be viewed as a valuable tool in the researcher’s toolbox, akin to reference management tools or Google Scholar. It can be particularly useful in generating research questions or creating initial searches for database exploration. However, it’s crucial to remember that AI is an aid to spark creativity and not a replacement for human analysis and insight.
The Future of AI in Academia
Looking forward, AI is likely to become more integrated into academic research, necessitating a careful and respectful approach to its usage. It’s vital to acknowledge the biases and limitations of AI while leveraging its capabilities to improve workflow and research efficiency. Ultimately, the future of AI in academia hinges on balancing technological advancement with critical human oversight and intellectual engagement.
As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of library technology and AI, it’s clear that while these tools offer unprecedented access to information, they also underscore the importance of critical thinking skills. In an era where misinformation can easily proliferate, the role of libraries and librarians in guiding researchers towards credible and reliable information becomes more crucial than ever.
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This post summarises a lecture by Andy Prue on Fact checking Generative AI outputs, hosted by Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars at the University of Kent. The lecture is available on YouTube.
Founder and director at 0&1 LTD