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Manchester tech academy chiefs: AI can’t replace the ‘human element’ in training

S&A Academy founder Darren Coomer gets his tech fix

A leading Manchester skills and transformation academy has entered the debate on the latest developments in the world of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI has rarely been out of the headlines lately, with the UK Government publishing its AI White Paper, the Italian Government restricting the use of AI, the arrival of more powerful forms of both OpenAI/Microsoft’s ChatGPT and Google’s AI chatbot Bard, and an open letter signed by high profile tech figures including Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and 1,000+ other experts demanding a six-month ban on creating more powerful AI. The letter issued a warning that AI could “represent a profound risk to humanity and change the history of life on earth.”

The question is also one that faces the 1,603 professional skills and apprenticeships training providers on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers as they look to analyse its impact on the future of apprenticeship training and whether AI poses an existential threat to the world of apprenticeship and professional skills training.

The S&A Academy, which is headquartered in Manchester’s Spinningfields, has three specialised training academies: Technology & Digital, Science & Laboratory, and Business & Leadership. Each provides personalised professional training and apprenticeships, as well as bespoke course creation and certification programmes for corporate clients.

Chief product & innovation officer for the parent S&A Transform Group Laurence “Floz” Martin insists that, while we are right to be concerned about the advancement of AI and its impact on business, industry and society, the technology does not pose a threat to the professional skills and training industry at this stage.

“If we look at AI and ChatGPT, this is nothing more than Stochastic Parrotry,” Martin said. “Stochastic, in that it uses calculations to analyse what would be predicted to be the best response to make us satisfied – so it’s statistical analysis. Parrotry in that doesn’t invent anything that someone hasn’t done before, effectively repeating back millions of lines of code and information that it has read before. ChatGPT uses historical inputs of text and content that can easily be built from a series of prompts. It has also been known to make mistakes, discriminate and to generally create mediocre content.”

Martin, who has been involved in tech and software development for nearly 30 years, adds that Google’s Bard also uses historical inputs of text and content, but can also use live content and data to analyse information in real time. As such it is an advancement on ChatGPT, but he still doesn’t thin kwe need to panic just yet.

“I don’t believe AI can replace the ‘human element’ in apprenticeship training,” he insisted. “AI is not pioneering and innovative enough in its thought process, whereas we create unique courses that are novel and pioneering. At the S&A Academy, we believe that ‘real-world’ experience trumps any AI automation. If anything, I think there will be a paradigm shift in the future to more personalised in-person teaching.”

S&A’s director of science Jemma Perks adds that using AI to replace human training to teach science and laboratory apprenticeships, would have a detrimental impact on apprenticeship training as human and social interaction are a vital component of the apprenticeship training process. She says that over reliance on AI could in fact impact critical thinking skills.

One area where Peerks thinks AI could revolutionise working is in the way in which we view and process data, which could make life easier for Scientists. The use of AI, albeit in a controlled setting of the apprenticeship course, could be a huge benefit and vital skillset in apprenticeship training if harnessed correctly.

“When we think of genomic data, think Jurassic Park, processing the whole genome of a living organism. If AI can learn which patterns of DNA cause disease and which don’t (although this would take years) this could help researchers massively.”

It’s fair to say the jury is still very much out on AI. The S&A Academies were founded by digital and technology transformation czar Darren Coomer, who has helped many boards navigate major business transformations. Ultimately, could AI just be the next one? Watch this space.

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