When you live in San Diego California, especially when you were raised with cold Ontario winters, you hate to complain about the weather (or, at least, you hate to complain too loudly). After all, San Diego has a reputation of always being Sunny and always with the perfect 20-24oC or 70-75oF air temp. But, it’s a lie. San Diego isn’t perfect, isn’t always Sunny, and isn’t always the perfect temp, and especially wasn’t this year. We have been colder, wetter, and greyer than I've experienced in my 23 years of living here. And it’s been this way for months. So, when we hit our normal and expected “May Grey” and “June Gloom” weather, it wasn’t a refreshing or even palatable change from the winter Sunshine and warmer temperatures; it was just more of the same. Dull, drizzly, and uninspiring.

What I have discovered about myself this past 5 months is my need for the Sunshine to feel alive, motivated, energized, and positive. Especially first thing in the morning. If the Sun is shining and the birds are chirping, I feel ready to start my day – no matter how difficult or tiring I know it might turn out to be. There’s an optimism, a brightness that serves to counter anything negative or distressing about the events of world. With the Sun, it feels like all things are possible. That there is hope for a better day, and a better future.

In Klara and The Sun, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Artificial Friends (AFs) like Klara share my need for the Sun. The novel doesn’t explicitly say that the Sun recharges their batteries – that the AFs are solar powered – but rather poetically insinuates that the Sun is that, but also more than that. The Sun is their guiding light. Their Saviour. Their God. For example, the AFs believe that the Sun can heal all that is wrong in the world, and can heal people, like Klara’s human friend Josie who is sick with an unnamed but debilitating condition.

What’s my point? Why does Klara and the Sun, you might ask, belong in a blog post for the International Center for Academic Integrity?

Those of us who work on academic integrity often need inspiration. Perhaps especially those of us who do not just research academic integrity, but work day-in and day-out on preventing and responding to integrity violations. We need a guiding light, reminding us that we're doing good work. We need a sense of hope, a sense of optimism that with our efforts, tomorrow will be better than today. We need a source of courage.

After all, that’s why many (most?) of us chose to work in the educational sector. We believe in growth, opportunities, empowerment, and the power to make a difference. We need to believe that what we do matters, and that with our guidance, the professionals and citizens of tomorrow will make the world a better, more ethical, place.

Yet, just like the grey skies have cast a shadow on the light of San Diego this winter, so too has Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) cast a shadow on the light of learning. What will be the impact of GenAI on teaching, learning and assessment, let alone on skills, jobs, and prized values like integrity, equity, and privacy? We just don't know yet. And we're just at the beginning of this revolution. Even with all of its current abilities, GenAI is quite limited. But as it gets folded more seamlessly and ubiquitously into our workflows - as it will wtih Google Workspace and Microsoft CoPilot integration - will we know what is human versus machine generated? Will we be able to create meaning or make meaning out of what we do? Where will humans be in that scenario? Will we all be out of work, with no sense of agency or care about the world like in Wall-E? Or, will we work alongside of it to better every planet in every galaxy, like in Star Trek?

I’d like to think it’s the latter. But when I think about a future where genetically enhanced humans need Artificial Friends, as portrayed in Klara and the Sun, I lose my sense of my optimism. I feel like the dark grey sky that settled over San Diego this winter and spring is not temporary, but permanent.

And this is weird for me. Normally I’m optimistic (it’s one of the values at my workplace!). Or, to be more accurate, I consider myself a realist optimist. When new things come to disrupt our normal ways of doing things, I think about the realistic challenges of the short term as well as the exciting possibilities of the long-term. For example, yes, GenAI is putting a lot of stress and responsibilities on the shoulders of individual faculty members to figure it all out – how to redesign their courses and their assessments to engage students and their learning in the face of machines who will do their academic work for them. This is a very real challenge. And it’s also a real challenge that students can easily, quickly and cheaply hand over their learning to GenAI. I worry that the ease, the quickness, and the seemingly confidence of GenAI will dull the human mind. That it will slowly but surely numb us to the instant gratification that it can provide, convincing us that there is no value in being challenged, in struggling, in thinking, or in learning. After all, why make it with my own efforts and thoughts when I can generate it with the touch of The Button?

But, I also find it exciting to think about the possibilities of GenAI. The probability that GenAI can free up faculty and support staff from the drudgeries of their work, so we can spend more time with students. That we can offer individualized and meaningful educational experiences, even in large universities. That we can mentor, coach, facilitate and guide individual humans, rather than shepherd large herds of students through an industrialized credit-hour, term-limited system. That GenAI will be the impetus that will finally force higher education to change – to become the active, engaged learning environment that it was always meant to be. That it needs to be. That it should be.

Which will be our future? The one in which we are Wall-E, or the one in which we are Klara and the Sun? In the former, the people are complacent and dumb, happy to let machines run their lives. In the latter, the humans seem to hold their place in the world. Josie – the genetically modified human – recovers from her mystery illness and goes on to live her life. Klara, the Artificial Friend, ends up in a junkyard full of other discarded AFs; left alone within memories of her time in the sun. In Klara & the Sun, the humans “win” by not ceding all of their power, creativity, intelligence, and humanity to the machines.

It is Sunday afternoon in San Diego. And, for a change, it is Sunny. So, for now, I will live in the hopeful possibility that we will not let this moment overtake us. I will live hopeful that we will seize the opportunity to evolve with GenAI, so that we continue to be the source of power in our own lives. I live with the promise that we will figure out how to use GenAI in a way to enhance our lives and our learning, but not let it control us or control our learning. I live with the possibility that we will continue to grow and evolve because that is the only thing, no wait, that is the only human thing to do. And, it is the only thing we can do with integrity.