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‘I’m More Scared of the People’: What Two High Schoolers Make of AI

Students, especially those in high school, are thinking much more about AI and its impact on their futures as the technology becomes increasingly influential in their everyday lives. It’s already changing how they interact with each other on social media, what and how they’re learning in school, and how they are thinking about careers.

Surveys have shown that teens are concerned about how artificial intelligence will impact their future job prospects. For instance, a Junior Achievement survey of 1,005 teens last year found that 66 percent of teens are concerned they may not be able to find a good job as adults because of AI.

Even so, many teens remain confident that AI will not derail their professional and personal lives as much as some fear it might.

Drew Hanfland and Dillynn Appelt, high school seniors at Effingham High School in Effingham, Ill., are two teenagers who represent that perspective.

Hanfland, 18, and Appelt, 17, are planning to pursue careers, respectively, in art and video game design. While they know AI technology is already affecting those industries, they’re still excited about pursuing their professional goals.

In a joint video interview with Education Week, Hanfland and Appelt discussed how they’ve used AI tools, their concerns about the technology, and how they see it affecting their career plans.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Have you used any kind of generative AI tool?

Appelt: I have. There was the Snapchat AI bot that got really popular last year. I’ve also used Character.AI to interact with some bots people have made for story building. Occasionally, I might use some AI image [generators] if my friends and I are playing around.

Hanfland: I’ve logged into ChatGPT to see what it’s all about. We’ve done a little bit in the classroom just to explore it. [Our multimedia teacher had us try a] generative AI tool where you could type in “give me a superhero destroying an apple,” and it would pop up right away and give us various examples of that. But as far as using it for personal use, I really haven’t.

Do you have concerns about AI?

Appelt: In junior high, we had a technology class and we touched on how robots were going to take over the world one day, because Amazon promised, “Hey, we’re gonna put drones [to work] and carry your packages with that.” Now it’s AI, and I’m a little worried because I see how many jobs could be affected, especially potential jobs for our generation. If we want to get into jobs that AI can do, then that worries me.

I don’t think it’s an immediate cause for concern, but I definitely think that AI could go a multitude of ways: We could veer towards AI taking over everything, and then there’s even more people on the streets who can’t fend for themselves, who can’t raise a family; or it could be peace on earth and solve everything for us.

Hanfland: I see it as a tool. We have tools all around us that were invented at various times that have gotten popular at different times. As long as we use our tools in a good way, they’re not a problem.

It’s when the tools are used negatively, that’s when it becomes a problem. Using ChatGPT to cheat, that’s a problem. AI is a great resource, and as long as we use it correctly then it can be wonderful. It’s in the hands of its users.

It makes me wonder what tools sprouted up years ago that are being used for good now but we were worried about at the time, and now they’ve settled down. Will this be another one of those things that might settle down, and we realize “oh, it’s not so bad”? Or will it get out of hand? I do worry that people will use [AI] incorrectly because they’ve used previous tools incorrectly. I’m more scared of the people, which sounds bad.

What can we do to make sure people use AI for good?

Appelt: The technology classes that I’ve seen in schools have been pretty good at [teaching me] what’s safe on the internet and what isn’t. I’m just not sure about what we could do for people who have already gone through school, because I know that there’s some people who are my mom’s age, who understand technology but might not have a grasp on the AI stuff. There’s people much older than her who might want to understand it.

[With younger generations], we could have activities where they learn [how to use AI]. Start the technology process at a younger age—but obviously don’t go too crazy, trying to put too much information on like a child.

Hanfland: That’s something that I haven’t come to a conclusion on, yet, other than setting a good example. We have all these questions because we don’t know the outcome. I think in a few years when it dies down, when this becomes more normalized, introducing it early will [help make it] just be another tool, hopefully.

Is there anything schools need to change to accommodate AI?

Appelt: If we could somehow figure out how to distinguish AI work from actual human work, that would be so helpful. We could check for that and prevent students from just taking AI and not putting work into it. Because if they don’t actually work on their work—as hard as it is—they won’t actually learn.

Hanfland: I wonder if AI will die down if we play it out, if they continue to not really [have guidelines or policies], if we continue the path that we’re going on.

What are your post-high school plans?

Appelt: I am looking into video game design. That’s primarily why I’m really into AI. I’ve been looking into coding, other various languages in code, and stuff like that, so touching up on how AI works has been a huge thing for me. Even though I don’t really know exactly how it’ll play out for me in the long run, I’m still super excited.

Hanfland: I am not going to college after high school. I’m staying in this town and starting a collaborative studio, where I’ll be doing all of my [art] commissions. Then I also want people to come in [to the studio], and it can be a space where they can do their artwork, as well.

It is concerning that generative AI can be used [to create art], but I think like what Dillynn said, as long as we’re able to identify that it was AI-generated, so artists aren’t taking credit for something that AI did. That is something that I worry about and can cause a problem, but I’m not too concerned about it.

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