Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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A Graph Can Tell a Story—Sometimes It’s an Illusion

Mistakes, chicanery, and "chartjunk" can undermine the usefulness of graphs

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. A graph can be worth a thousand numbers. Graphs are, as Edward Tufte titled his wonderful book, the “visual display of quantitative information.” Graphs should assist our understanding of the data we are using. Graphs can help us identify tendencies, patterns, trends, and relationships. They should display data accurately and encourage viewers to think about the data rather than admire the artwork. Unfortunately, graphs are sometimes marred (intentionally or unintentionally) by a variety of misleading techniques or by what Tufte calls “chartjunk” that obscures rather than illuminates. I have described elsewhere many ways in which mistakes, chicanery, and chartjunk can undermine the usefulness of graphs. I recently saw a novel Read More ›

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Learning to Communicate

Why writing skills are so important, especially in today's artificial world

Educators have been shaken by fears that students will use ChatGTP and other large language models (LLMs) to answer questions and write essays. LLMs are indeed astonishing good at finding facts and generating coherent essays — although the alleged facts are sometimes false and the essays are sometimes tedious BS supported by fake references. I am more optimistic than most. I am hopeful that LLMs will be a catalyst for a widespread discussion of our educational goals. What might students learn in schools that will be useful long after they graduate? There are many worthy goals, but critical thinking and communication skills should be high on any list. I’ve written elsewhere about how critical thinking abilities are important for students Read More ›

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Text Generators, Education, and Critical Thinking: an Update

The fundamental problem remains that, not knowing what words mean, AI has no critical thinking abilities

This past October, I wrote that educational testing was being shaken by the astonishing ability of GPT-3 and other large language models (LLMs) to answer test questions and write articulate essays. I argued that, while LLMs might mimic human conversation, they do not know what words mean. They consequently excel at rote memorization and BS conversation but struggle mightily with assignments that are intended to help students develop their critical thinking abilities, such as Lacking any understanding of semantics, LLMs can do none of this. To illustrate, I asked GPT-3 two questions from a midterm examination I had recently given in an introductory statistics class. Both questions tested students critical thinking skills and GPT-3 bombed both questions. I was hopeful Read More ›