ChatGPT reminds us why good questions matter

Debate: ChatGPT reminds us why good questions matter

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More than 100 million people used ChatGPT in January alone, according to an estimate, making it the fastest growing consumer app in history. By generating resumes, essays, jokes, and even poetry in response to prompts, the software focuses not only on the capture capabilities of language models, but also on the importance of asking our questions correctly.

To achieve that goal, a few years ago I initiated 100 questions initiative, which seeks to catalyze cultural change in the way we leverage data and develop scientific insights. The project aims to not only generate new questions, but also reimagine the process of asking them.

A difficult yearning for answers

As a species and a society, we tend to seek answers. The answers seem to provide a sense of clarity and certainty and can help guide our actions and policy decisions. However, any answer represents the interim final stage of a process that begins with a question—and can often generate more questions. Einstein drew attention to the special importance of asking questions, which can often determine (or at least play a significant role in determining) the final answer to which we are concerned. achieve.

Ask a different question and one might get a different answer. However, as a society, we undervalue the act of asking questions—who is asking the questions, how they do it, their impact on what we investigate, and for the decisions we make. We also do not pay enough attention to whether the answers actually address the original questions posed.

Questions play an important role in many aspects of our lives. For example, the right questions are important to the scientific process, fostering inquiry and discovery across a wide range of topics and issues, and shaping public policy. Consider the list of government-approved school-recommended vaccines. This list represents one endpoint (one answer) in a long process. However, what questions did scientists and policymakers begin with to get to this list? What were the public health goals they set themselves, how did they determine effectiveness, and what cut-off points did they choose in the balance of benefits and risks? Such questions have an important role to play in the final selection of vaccines to be included in the list, as well as for public health.

Scientific reporting tends to focus on results and insights. They represent late- or top-level information. As illustrated in the above example, greater attention to questions and how they are asked helps contextualize the information at the end, allowing policymakers and citizens alike to make informed decisions. Better decisions, more responsibility.

Questions also give value to the data. Much of today’s reports and commentary focus on the amount of data generated and the need to open them up for scientific and public purposes—that is, providing raw data. But questions are what transform raw data into information: the questions we ask shape the problems we seek to solve, allowing us to leverage data for the common good.

Why AI makes questioning science more urgent than ever

the rise of big language model (LLM) and field quick technique showed us how important it is to arrange the questions correctly, in order to get an LLM to give the answers (however, the correctness and truthfulness of these answers remains an issue). subject). But before engineering quickly becomes relevant, it’s important to point out that when AI engineers develop a machine learning model that learns from data, what it learns—meaning the model itself— depends on the question to which one seeks to answer the data.

It is also important to note that the answers provided by the AI ​​system may reflect errors or omissions in the underlying data. This issue has been emphasized, for example, in the context of automated Q&A systems like Alexa and Siri, which provide answers to a large number of households on many everyday questions and tasks. Therefore, discovering and developing ways of constructing questions so that they overcome some of the inherent biases of the data should be an important part of the practice and theory of rapid engineering—and , in general, of an emerging science of questioning in the data age.

The role of questions may be heightened in the digital environment, but their importance is actually much deeper. There is a long tradition, at least since the time of Socrates and many schools of Eastern thought, of using questions to enhance pedagogy and various forms of human and social learning. . Others have written about the need for “a pedagogy of questioning”. And more recently, scientists and scholars have explored the use of Socratic method in data analysis And promote data literacy.

Questions to combat information overload

Ultimately, by helping us understand what really matters, questions are the engine of social change and improvement. They help set priorities and allow us to imagine alternatives. As such, the question is political. And, as Perry Zurn explained in The politics of curiosity Our political commitments often inform questions we think are worth asking.

As society becomes overloaded with data and data-driven findings, we move further and further away from questions. This post represents an initial justification for what we might think is a new science on the question.

To define and create such a science, we need, in fact, to begin by asking ourselves a series of questions. How can we make scientific reporting more focused on the questions posed in science? What is a good question (and a bad question)? How can we supplement data science with a new science of question? How can we allow learners to become questioners? How do we ensure that questioning is comprehensive and unbiased? How do we unleash the full potential of machine learning and AI with good questions?

Facing and answering such questions requires a new interdisciplinary effort that brings together scientists, data scientists, science writer, social change actor, artist and education expert. A glimpse of such efforts is in progress. But we need much more interaction between information silos and discipline, and we need to foster conversations that shift our social focus away from answer and toward context and purpose—in fact, towards asking the right questions.

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