Humanities without humans
The humanities are drastically losing students at American universities. Courses like Latin and Greek have replaced once-popular courses like English, history, and philosophy as the "no man's land" of courses that define a particular type of college experience. They now have a fusty, unprofitable scholasticism about them.
This fact was recently highlighted by The New Yorker. The text mostly stays away from discussing the effects of the shift it mentions. It makes sense that way. The trend is not new, and there is a long history of jeremiads about it that humanities majors like me have written about the danger it poses to liberal society. It's been said before. Learn to code, as the Twitter coders advise.
But, there is one inference that seems to be more current now. The study of language and how people use it to communicate, deceive, persuade, and misunderstand one another is a common theme among the numerous humanities departments.
Tech professionals are currently focused on communication as a thousand working groups are formed to address the suddenly unavoidable power of generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT can draft business plans and emails. It can produce respectable Milton papers. It is codable!
On the one hand, this won't help an English degree's reputation as a product for $200,000 in tuition. So, not only do accountants and contact center agents fear becoming obsolete but those of us who developed our abilities to BS our way through meetings at the college seminar table as well.
Nonetheless, it is possible to be concerned about a future in which individuals entrust an AI with an increasing amount of their writing while paying less and less attention to the mechanics of writing.
The first technology humans invented is language itself. Whether it's our smartphone, the microwave on the kitchen counter, or the autopilot controlling the plane we're on, modern life means relying on a variety of objects whose inner workings we don't quite comprehend.
It would be unfortunate if language developed into yet another technology. Language is complicated, but not in the same ways that other things are complicated. It can be abused and turned into a weapon. If you've struggled with it for a while, it will be much simpler to understand how.
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