At the Intersection of History and AI

Photo of computer code generated by AI
AI-generated graphic of multiple roads crossing on map with computer code (Created by Adobe Firefly)

April 05, 2024
Lucy Klebeck (’23, ’24 M.A.) | Gonzaga Magazine Spring 2024

Before 21st-Century artificial intelligence, there was the creation of computers. Before that, the television. And long before that, the wheel.

Christopher Miller (’96), who holds a B.A. in history, points out that society often reacts to new technology as if it signals the end of the world. However, those inventions typically are not life-shattering, such as doomsday headlines surrounding AI.

Miller shares this anecdote as an example. A few years ago, he and his wife drove to Glacier National Park, trekking west from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on I-90. Coincidentally, this is the same route Miller drove as a teenager with his parents, bound for his first year at Gonzaga. Along the way, Miller notes that almost nothing in the landscape had changed on these hundreds of miles of interstate. What was the difference in the two trips? Use of the GPS: Technology changed the way Miller got from point A to point B, but it did not change the journey.

Currently an analyst covering emerging technology at Javelin Strategy & Research, Miller consults with clients about how they use AI in their business operations and their products.

The shift from history studies to working in financial services, he says, is a testament to his liberal arts degree. “Liberal arts serve as a basis for being able to deal with things like this,” referring to emerging technologies. Learning specific tech-related skillsets is important, but even more so is learning how to approach and respond to new applications as they impact other industries in the long term.

Regarding AI, Miller thinks it “fits into a broader trend of tech that seems to devalue human technology or effort,” and that people tend to see AI as competing with or threatening human work. Skills may be challenged, but not the role of people, he suggests. Take the automobile or the telephone, which allow us to travel and communicate much more efficiently. People are still traveling and communicating, albeit differently than before those innovations. These developments created new types of jobs that required different skillsets and knowledge.

When Miller applied for his current job, he asked what the president of the company saw for the future of the analyst role. The answer was something like this: Fundamentally,
it’s similar to searching for a workout online but still hiring a trainer. People will still have analysts.

The way the world works is changing, but this is not new, Miller says. Television changed how we communicated and entertained one another. The computer changed how we calculate. The wheel changed how we moved and farmed. But what society does, at its core, remains largely the same.

AI, like any other technology, may change how people go about their daily lives, ideally in a way that allows us to be more efficient, to learn more, to communicate better and to continue to do what we have always done in different ways.

For more articles and perspectives, visit our "AI in Higher Education" collection.