AI 2030 – navigating the future of artificial intelligence

Michael Webb
Michael Webb

As we stand at the crossroads of technological evolution, it is crucial we reflect on our journey so far in order to chart a course for the future.

Man conducting a seminar in front of a large screen

The last six years have been a whirlwind of innovation and adaptation in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). From the inception of GPT 1 in 2018 to the integration of generative AI, we have seen significant transformation.

It would be easy to think AI has only really come into its own since ChatGPT burst onto the scene in November 2022 and broadened our minds to the possibilities of AI in everyday life, but a lot happened to get us to that point.

So, what lies ahead? And what does this mean for education and research?

Ahead of my keynote presentation at Digifest 2024, let's take a closer look at where we've been, where we are now, and what the next six years might bring.

Humble beginnings

Looking back over the past century, we've witnessed the rise and fall of various technologies in the education sector. Skinner teaching machines (the first widely used automated teaching machine) interactive whiteboards, Second Life and massive open online courses (MOOCs) have all been cited as failures, with some believing generative AI would follow the same path, but I don’t believe this will be the case.

When considering the emergence of AI, it may be more helpful to draw parallels with the evolution of the world wide web. Much like the web's transition from static web pages to interactive platforms (Web 2.0), generative AI is following a similar path of iterative advancement.

From the introduction of GPT1 which generated relatively little interest, through to OpenAI’s statement that GPT2 was too powerful to release and concerns around GPT3 being able to construct plausible text, these tools advanced at such a rapid rate that many missed the opportunity to test early and plan ahead.

It took the coining of the phrase “stochastic parrots” (a term that highlights the opinion that large language models (LLMs), even though they are good at generating convincing language, do not actually understand the meaning of the language being processed) by Professor Emily Bender and colleagues, to really identify the random nature of what we could expect from generative AI.

By adding humans into the language training process, ChatGPT was born in 2022 seemingly out of nowhere, exemplifying the increasing sophistication of what generative AI can do.

AI in everyday life

Fast forward to the present day, and we find ourselves in a world where AI is seamlessly integrated into our everyday tools and experiences. From entertainment to education, employment, healthcare, finance and even the ways in which we communicate - especially across borders, languages and cultures – AI can undoubtedly make life easier for those of us lucky enough to have access.

In education and employment, AI powered tools such as Teachermatic and Microsoft Copilot are becoming indispensable for tasks such as generating presentations, preparing learning materials and automating admin.

Students are also using AI, not just as a means of 'cheating’ as was once feared, but as a tool for exploration, creative design and skill development, and they want to be able to do this better and more often.

Many learners are calling on institutions to provide them with the skills they need to thrive in an AI-enabled world, but they still have concerns about overreliance, digital inequality and ambiguous rules.

As the use of AI continues to grow, it's vital for educational institutions and policymakers to address these challenges proactively. Globally, we are already seeing regulation diverging, and it will be interesting to see what the UK’s lighter touch approach will mean.

AI 2030 and beyond

Looking ahead to the next six years, the trajectory of AI suggests a continued pace of improvement, albeit with a focus on skill refinement rather than revolutionary breakthroughs.

This will lead to greater understanding of how to get the best out of the tools we already have at our fingertips.

We can also expect to see smaller, more specialised AI models integrated into an even wider array of devices and applications such as our mobile phones and TVs.

Automation will continue to play a more prominent role in streamlining workflows and enhancing productivity to the point where we are unlikely to even recognise it as AI; it will just be considered business as usual.

But amidst this technological advancement, it's essential to question our motives and aspirations.

Are we striving for transformation or, ultimately, optimisation ie doing what we are doing today, but more efficiently and effectively? We need to be honest about where we want to get to if we want to achieve the best outcomes.

Will AI serve as a catalyst for innovation and creativity, or will it perpetuate digital debt and unnecessary content creation? Because we can automate admin, will we end up creating even more than before? Are we more conscious of the content we create when it’s harder to produce?

These are critical considerations that require thoughtful reflection as we navigate the evolving AI landscape.

For educators, one of the key questions will be – are we preparing our learners for an AI-enabled future? This means not only equipping them with technical skills but also fostering critical thinking, adaptability and ethical decision-making – all essential human skills that cannot be delivered by AI.

Now is the time to think about curriculum and how AI can enhance, or limit, the student experience. By learning from the past, we can begin to pave the way for a future where technology enriches human lives and empowers individuals to reach their full potential.

More information

Book your ticket for Digifest 2024 taking place in person at the International Conference Centre (ICC) Birmingham, and online, on 12-13 March 2024.

Registration for in-person attendees closes at 9am on Tuesday 5 March 2024, or at 10am on Monday 11 March for online bookings.

Digifest 2024 is a CPD-accredited event. Attendees can contribute their learning time towards individual continuing professional development goals. Jisc members and customers receive two free in-person tickets per organisation.

About the author

Michael Webb
Michael Webb
Director of technology and analytics

I lead our work supporting the responsible and effective adoption of artificial intelligence across the education sector, through a range of pilots, advice, guidance, and community support activities.