Research: How Do We Work With AI?

Cyborg riding on the back of a centaur

Are you a centaur or a cyborg?

In a fascinating working paper written by researchers at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, and the Boston Consulting Group, they posit that we use AI Large Language Models (like ChatGPT) in two ways: as a centaur or as a cyborg.

Centaurs create a dividing line, similar to the mythological being that has a dividing line between the man and the horse. They identify the advantages disadvantages of using AI versus themselves, and delegate the tasks to the better option. They might use the AI to provide a structure for writing or as a means to aid in brainstorming, but themselves to run calculations and smooth over writing styles. 

Cyborgs work in tandem with AI, similar to the integration of man and technology in this creature. They play off each other to gain the best outcome. One might start a sentence, and the other completes it. One might begin a course outline, and the other might identify missing topics. I envision it as having a close friend working through a project with you.

This study also quantified observations that others have seen. The study participants were knowledge workers – in this case, consultants from Boston Consulting Group. Two of their findings include:

  • Those using AI were “significantly more productive (they completed 12.2% more tasks on average, and completed task 25.1% more quickly), and produced significantly higher quality results (more than 40% higher quality compared to a control group).”
  • When asked to perform a task outside the AI’s understanding, “consultants using AI were 19 percentage points less likely to produce correct solutions compared to those without AI.”

What does this say for those who work in the library and information space? 

AI is not different than other changes and technologies our profession has dealt with. We should take the time to understand how AI works under the hood and how to use AI services, be available to our patrons and colleagues to support and guide, and participate in discussions of ethics and guidelines. In addition, we should give credit when it is due: AI is a tool that can provide superior and faster results in some circumstances, but don’t count us out!  Humans are better at tasks that require empathy, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and other soft skills.

For myself, I look forward to being a cyborg. I am starting to work more with ChatGPT and DALL-E and see a day when I will work with these tools as a part of my team.