2 min read

The real enshittification has only just begun.

One of my godson’s got caught using AI to generate papers for his history class. He does school from home and can turn in work when he’s finished. I’m not sure how they caught him, but I have to imagine they were tipped off when he turned in an entire semester’s worth of work within two weeks. When confronted about the situation he played the well-established lemming defense: “Trust me, everyone else is doing it.”

I have to give him credit, I would have likely tried the same thing if these tools were available when I went to school. I finished my last semester in college by writing a few hundred pages of essays on history and political science. It would have been nice to crank out a few of those three-pagers in a few hours instead of every weekend.

That said, one of the hardest lessons I have learned over decades of experience is that there are no worthwhile shortcuts in life. There are plenty out there to take, but choosing that path always leads to consequences. Many times more severe than if you had just done the work yourself. In all cases taking a shortcut deprived me of the experience and the learning that comes from just doing the work or fulfilling a role.

I have a friend who is notorious for spending more time trying to solve a problem through systems and tools to produce shortcuts than just doing the work. I’ve seen her spend twice as much time trying to come up with something clever instead of completing a task. There’s nothing wrong with looking for ways to optimize your work until the search takes much longer than the task. In the end, the job still needs to get done and you’ve likely just made more work for yourself.

As is the case with my godson who has been graciously granted a second chance. He has until the end of the semester to re-complete all of his assignments. Thankfully he has plenty of time to do this because he “finished” his work within a few weeks. Now he has a few months to make things right and his parent has to personally verify and validate that he completed the new work on his own—“Made by Human.” Not only does he have to do more work, but he’s also lost a few privileges. Ah, the consequences of shortcuts.

If there’s a lesson learned for everyone through the AI hijinx of a teenager it’s this, AI is not a turn-key shortcut for producing good work (of course there are some exceptions, especially in the realm of tasks to compare and contrast). Generative is not substantive, and it robs us of learning and doing which gives us more experience and ultimately enhances our perspective. Manufacturing thought produces cheap results. Generated by AI is the new 1980s horrible synonymous expression, “Made in Taiwan.” And I suspect it will only get worse (not Taiwan, it’s pretty awesome). Especially as more corporations try to wedge and duct-tape AI onto their already shitty systems. The consequences of their many attempts at using AI as a shortcut will be severe and will negatively impact more of us than intended or imagined.