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Recently, both OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg made somewhat surprising announcements regarding artificial general intelligence. In an interview with Bill Gates, Altman said AGI could come in the “reasonably close-ish future.” At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Altman added, “It will change the world much less than we all think and it will change jobs much less than we all think.

However, shortly thereafter, Zuckerberg posted on Instagram, saying that Meta was combining a couple of initiatives to focus on AGI, adding, “This technology is so important and the opportunities are so great that we should open source and make it as widely available as we responsibly can, so everyone can benefit.” This was followed by leaked plans that “Google has set an internal goal to build the world’s most advanced, safe and responsible AI this year.” Meanwhile, Elon Musk claims his recently released first version of xAI is, in at least some respects, the best that has been developed so far. And a whole host of other leaders in the technology field are reportedly working on achieving AGI.

Amid this flurry of activity, now is a good time to review just what AGI is expected to be and how it might impact higher education and the world at large.

First, the concept of a highly advanced computer-based intelligence has been the subject of film, fiction and speculation dating back to Alan Turing’s paper “On Computable Numbers” in 1936. Definitions and precise visions of AGI vary. When I asked Google Bard to define AGI, it responded on the morning of Jan. 21, “Artificial general intelligence (AGI) refers to the theoretical future stage of AI development where machines possess human-level or even surpassing intelligence. AGI systems would not only be able to perform specific tasks better than humans but also demonstrate flexibility, adaptability and the ability to learn and reason in unforeseen situations, akin to human cognition.”

ChatGPT’s definition on the same morning was “Artificial general intelligence (AGI), often regarded as the holy grail of artificial intelligence research, refers to a type of AI that possesses the ability to understand, learn and apply its intelligence to a wide range of problems, much like a human being. This contrasts with Narrow AI, which is designed to handle specific tasks such as language translation, image recognition, or playing a game like chess.” ChatGPT added that characteristics are sometimes applied such as adaptability, generalization, understanding and reasoning, learning efficiency, consciousness, and self-awareness.

The advantages go beyond efficiency and extend into synergies that will allow us to make dramatic progress in problem solving, conceptualizing new approaches to long-term challenges such as climate change and medical cures. However, as ChatGPT pointed out, with the anticipated strengths in understanding, reasoning, learning efficiency and consciousness, the advent of AGI is sure to bring changes in higher education.

We have already seen the more limited approach of generative AI excel in tutoring through Khanmigo. We have seen the AI math instruction manager ALEKS and others guide mastery learning: “ALEKS knows, at each moment, with respect to each individual topic, whether each individual student has mastered that topic. If not, ALEKS knows whether she is ready to learn the topic at that moment. ALEKS uses this knowledge to make learning more efficient and effective by continuously offering the student a selection of only the topics she is ready to learn at the current time.”

AGI will afford us many more personalized options and cost-saving strategies while raising quality at the same time. There will be the possibility of efficiently designed customized degree and certificate programs that will be conceived and delivered by AI. They could be crafted to directly address specific, immediate industry and corporate needs. Most likely, in the beginning, these will be overseen by credentialed faculty members.

Opportunities for inter-institutional collaborations will be uncovered by AGI without the inherent institutional bias and self-serving motives of human administrators. These will allow for economies for the students and the institutions that will result in a much wider customized variety of just-in-time programs with less duplication and competition.

To put this into a wider perspective, I asked my good colleague and AI co-presenter Katherine Kerpan of Loyola University Chicago to share her vision of the role of AGI in higher education of the future. She noted, “Today, some of us thrive because of the guidance, encouragement and alternate perspectives from personal trainers, mental health therapists and life coaches. Unfortunately, these kinds of professionals are too costly for many individuals, and having another human with us at all times is not feasible. Imagine a future in which AGI functions as a cost-effective and wholly customized ‘lifelong learning companion’ for every learner, no matter the setting or circumstances and which is attuned to the specific interests and challenges of that individual.”

Just imagine lifelong learning alongside a brilliant virtual, superhuman companion that knows your knowledge base (and gaps therein), health, life conditions, preferences, interests, passions, hopes and desires. Your personal AGI assistant will peruse the world of information, old and new in whatever language or medium, for threads of research and study that you might want to pursue to satisfy you today and prepare you for the future. Ultimately, it will be your counselor, adviser, teacher and constant companion. Of course, you will be able to dismiss it and ignore it whenever you choose.

AGI, then, has the potential to become your lifelong your interface to higher education. In many instances, it will support heutagogical, self-directed studies; in other cases, it will engage you with other humans as well as avatars that will serve to provide engaging learning experiences. This will call for significantly different institutions of higher education and different roles for faculty, staff and administrators.

If this all seems to be a radical change, know that these are the capabilities we can expect will rapidly open up to us with AGI. Do not underestimate the power of AGI to swiftly change the way we work and live. The power and changes will dwarf those we are seeing emerge with its nascent forerunner, generative AI. AGI promises the potential to enhance your value, satisfaction and opportunities to fulfill your dreams. Precisely how that will roll out for individual faculty, staff, administrators and institutions in the future remains to be seen. However, now is the time to learn more about the technology and to begin visioning the possibilities for your institution and your career that will come with the advent of artificial general intelligence.

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