Credo High 9th graders explore the future of artificial intelligence in documentary theater project
In front of a chalkboard or by the light of their desk lamps and computer screens, Credo High School’s ninth grade students mimicked the motions and voices of experts in a series of documentary theater performances exploring the topic of artificial intelligence.
Their performances were inspired by a key question posed by their English teachers:
How much of our humanity are we willing to outsource to AI?
The Credo students interviewed a range of sources including software engineers, programmers, filmmakers and professors, about what a future dependent on these new tools might look like. They then reenacted verbatim monologues in front of their classmates, parents and teachers, some which were livestreamed on Thursday in a performance titled “The Human Element.”
With the new models of artificial intelligence recently becoming widely publicly available such as Chat GPT and DALL-E 2, previously unimaginable technological innovations have been an emerging, sometimes uncomfortable, topic.
For younger generations who have grown up in an evolving era of technology dominated by the internet, it’s an uncomfortable conversation worth having because it’s likely to play a large role in the rest of their lives, said ninth grade English teacher Erick Gordon, who led the project along with English teacher Alex Lannon.
Gordon was previously a fellow at Colombia University who taught project-based learning. He has brought the educational technique to Credo, where they now have an annual documentary theater project.
“There's so many layers to the project, but the goal is helping them engage with those questions on artificial intelligence in ways that aren't prompted by any kind of teacher judgment” Gordon said. “I want them to be the ones who are forming opinions.”
Their final project involves creating an opinion piece about their personal positions on emerging technologies and answering questions such as: What kind of role could AI have in education? What are the lines that we don't want to cross as a community?
Student Eliyah Berkowitz interviewed her grandmother, who’s passionate about dance.
Speaking energetically, Berkowitz (imitating her grandma) started off her performance by talking about a friend’s recent purchase of a Roomba, or a robot vacuum.
“I mean Richard loves it, he loves it,” she said to the camera. “I just wouldn't want something ― I want to be able to vacuum how I vacuum and do it the way I do it. I have control issues. I want to be able to control it.”
“I couldn’t do it but that doesn’t mean you can’t,” her grandma had told her, adding that AI could be helpful in medicine, saving lives. But she added that she would be upset to see it in the arts.
“It’s a like a laugh,” Berkowitz said, mimicking her grandmother’s hand movements. “You want a laugh to be real. I wouldn't want it to write a book either ― you want it to come from somewhere real … It comes out of your inner being, your soul. And a chatbot isn’t a soul.“
In a Press Democrat interview with a group of Credo’s High’s ninth grade students, most had used AI before, but they said the project had shaped their views and opened their mind to new possibilities and perspectives, both good and bad.
Euphemia Rough, 15, said growing up with dyslexia, she has always found a certain form of AI incredibly useful: spell check. It’s an innovation that she finds doesn’t hinder society but benefits it greatly.
But she also learned “how important human connection is.” It opened her eyes to “the big picture,” Rough said. AI can be a great tool as long as the human ability to problem solve and connect remains.
Some of the students talked about how AI can be discriminatory. Chloe Kamages, 14, interviewed her aunt who works at Meta, the parent company of Facebook.
She talked about ethical morality at the programming level and how AI could further exploit marginalized groups. She gave an example of self-driving cars not registering people of color on the road.
Lucia Kuhlman, 15, said it was really interesting to learn about how far AI has come already, with tools that can free up time for art and family.
Alima Koniak, said the assignment was a good way to get outside her comfort zone “It was more fun than I expected it to be and it forms our own idea of AI”
The students talked about AI and all its facets: the good, the bad, the terrifying, the complicated and the unknown.
Robots surely could not top what the Credo High ninth graders did. Right?
You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @alana_minkler.