‘It’s not just about the technology, it’s how we’re going to change the world with it’: The powerful impact of GenAI on how we live and work

Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) — including ChatGPT – is a game changer on the scale of the internet and Durham College (DC) is embracing that change and exploring how it’s going to impact us in the world of work and beyond through active discussions and research.

On November 22, the DC Alumni Association held a discussion called ‘GenAI: The Power of Infinite Possibilities’. The event was hosted by DC president Don Lovisa and professor Lon Appleby and is available via The Rotary Global Classroom. Panelists included three DC graduates who work with GenAI as well as Amanda Maknyik, associate dean of Teaching, Learning and Program Quality at DC.

Maknyik explained that GenAI is a branch of artificial intelligence.

“It’s unique in the fact that it learns and it can actually create unique new content so that content can be in text form, it can be graphical format, it can be videos, it can be music, it can be any number of things,” she said. “It differs from artificial intelligence in that it learns from the user.”

Roop Gill is part of the commercial team at Sanctuary AI, a company whose mission it is to create the world’s first human-like intelligence in general-purpose robots. She is also an alumna of DC’s Chemical Laboratory Technician program and she was enthusiastic about the topic of GenAI.

“It’s like being part of this exciting science fiction movie but it’s real life,” said Gill. “It’s not just about the technology, it’s how we’re going to change the world with it.”

Computer Programming and Analysis graduate Shane Graham said the development of GenAI is as revolutionary as the internet and everyone is going to be using it.

As director of software engineering at Invyzn, a company that handles fleet management solutions including vehicle tracking and big data, he said he uses GenAI on a daily basis for things like writing code, planning projects or even writing emails to save time.

“What I found was for higher level things, it worked exceptionally well, so writing up scope of work documents, writing API documentation, even planning — it could plan a project pretty well and then I’d just overview it and approve it essentially,” said Graham adding that it was saving him a great deal of time.

“In the beginning I was a little worried about using it for code as well, same with the people at my company, but we’re finding that we can easily build out small scripts where it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would get us to a point where we could then go in and manipulate it to exactly what we want.”

GenAI is expected to fundamentally change the skills workers need to succeed in their career. AI can’t be creative like the human mind so the key factor in harnessing the power of it is engineering prompts to generate valuable outputs.

“AI isn’t here to take away jobs, rather it’s a tool that will evolve how we work … AI won’t replace your job, but someone who knows AI will,” said Gill.

She cited a 2022 report from the World Economic Forum which predicted 85 million jobs worldwide would be displaced by technology and automation, however 97 million new roles would be created due to the same forces.

The panel tackled complex questions — and some had no simple answers — like the impact of GenAI on sustainability as complex computing requires large amounts of energy. Artificial Intelligence Analysis graduate Tejas Vyas said a lot of start ups are working on the sustainability issue when it comes to increasingly complex computing.

A principal investigator at DC’s AI Hub, a software developer at Preference North America and a 2021 Artificial Intelligence Analysis grad, Vyas also took an optimistic approach when asked about the impact on GenAI on human intelligence.

“Every new technology increases human intelligence,” he said. “Think of it this way: we started with a wheel — we created that wheel then we moved forward, we created a car out of it and now we move forward, we created a self-driving car. Getting something that is very smart is a stepping stone we can build upon. If students and the public are able to use (GenAI) well it will be able to augment existing intelligence.”

GenAI is revolutionizing the workplace and DC is preparing students and faculty to adapt and thrive in this new environment. Find out more about how DC’s Centre for Teaching and Learning is supporting the use of GenAI in higher education.