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Critical thinking and AI: How to tell what's fake and what's not

Here's how you can spot misinformation easily, so you're not deceived by photos, videos, and news generated by AI.

Sep 01, 2023 • 5 Minute Read

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  • Data
  • Team Development
  • AI & Machine Learning
  • Learning & Development

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its ability to generate convincing fake images, videos, and news, the importance of critical thinking has never been more evident. Unfortunately, you can't just look for tells either, as these are evaporating when it comes to AI.

So, how can you navigate through this sea of misinformation? By sharpening your critical thinking skills! 

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking, at its core, is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you’re capable of in any set of circumstances. It’s about analyzing information, questioning its sources, and making informed decisions.

Consider it as your mental toolkit, where you pull out tools like logic, reasoning, and open-mindedness to dissect information and arrive at a more accurate understanding.

Why is it important now more than ever?

With the proliferation of AI, it has become incredibly easy to produce and disseminate false information. Deepfakes, for instance, can make it seem like anyone said anything, potentially leading to widespread misinformation. Without critical thinking, it's easy to fall prey to these illusions.

But it's not just about AI. The sheer volume of information on the internet means that anyone with an agenda can spread their views, factual or not. As consumers of this information, it's our responsibility to sift through it judiciously.

Steps to enhance your critical thinking skills

1. Always question the source

Before accepting any piece of information, ask yourself:

  • Who is providing this information?

  • What might be their motive?

  • Is this a primary source or is it secondary (i.e., are they relaying someone else's information)?

Before you believe a claim, especially in a digital format, verify its authenticity. Look for multiple reputable sources that corroborate the same information. ChatGPT, for example, will make up sources --- check to see if the paper they're quoting actually exists, or if they made it up.

This applies to images and videos as well. Recently, there were false images of the Hawaii wildfires being caused by "space laser weapons". However, a reverse image search quickly showed these were actually images of a 2019 SpaceX launch. A bit of critical thinking, and the deception was easily debunked.

2. Analyze the logic

Break down the arguments or information presented:

  • Are there any logical fallacies present?

  • Does the argument make sense from start to finish?

3. Seek out different perspectives

It's easy to fall into an echo chamber, especially on social media. Make an active effort to:

  • Follow and read from a variety of sources.

  • Engage in conversations with people who hold differing views.

4. Reflect on your own beliefs

Critical thinking isn't just about analyzing external information. It's also about introspection:

  • Why do I believe what I believe?

  • Am I holding onto certain beliefs because of biases or unverified information?

We all have inherent biases. Recognizing them is the first step to ensuring they don't cloud our judgment. With AI and algorithms, they may pander to what you want to believe, or already believe, playing to our confirmation bias.

5. Educate yourself

Knowledge is power. Exposing yourself to different modes of learning can enrich your thinking:

  • Take courses on logic, reasoning, and critical thinking.

  • Read books or articles that delve into these topics.

  • Listen to podcasts, take online courses, or join discussion groups. 

Any learning, no matter what you’re learning, will expand your perspective of the world. The more educated you are, the less likely AI (or just people being deceptive) will be able to trick you with misinformation, because you're already well-researched on the topic in question.

6. Practice regularly

Like any skill, critical thinking gets better with practice:

  • Engage in debates.

  • Analyze news articles or statements critically.

  • Discuss complex topics with friends and family.

Established methods you can use for critical thinking

Critical thinking has, thankfully, been seen as a vital skill since antiquity. That means there’s a lot of established methods you can use to practice it.

1. The Socratic method

Rooted in ancient philosophy, the Socratic method involves asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and draw out underlying presumptions. If you want to uncover deeper understanding and challenge existing beliefs, continually probe with questions like, "Why do you think that?" or "How do you know this?"

2. Six Thinking Hats

Developed by Edward de Bono, this method encourages you to view problems from multiple perspectives. Each "hat" represents a different style of thinking:

  • White Hat: Focus on data and facts.

  • Red Hat: Look at problems using intuition and emotion.

  • Black Hat: Consider the negative aspects or potential pitfalls.

  • Yellow Hat: Think positively and look for benefits.

  • Green Hat: Think creatively and brainstorm new ideas.

  • Blue Hat: Focus on managing the thinking process and organizing ideas.

Switching between these "hats" allows for a comprehensive evaluation of issues.

3. SWOT analysis

Often employed in the business realm, the acronym SWOT represents Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Examining a situation or decision through these four lenses offers a comprehensive perspective, aiding in sound decision-making.

4. Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

Rather than merely tackling the obvious concerns, it's essential to probe further to uncover the underlying issues. Methods such as the "Five Whys" (asking "why?" repeatedly to drill down to the core reason) can prove beneficial.

5. Mind mapping

Creating a visual representation of information can help organize thoughts, see connections, and stimulate creative solutions.

6. Pro-con lists

A classic method, listing the pros and cons of a decision can provide clarity and highlight areas that require further investigation.

7. Think in probabilities

Rather than thinking in black-and-white terms (something will or won't happen), consider the probabilities. This nuanced approach can help in making more rational decisions, especially in uncertain situations.

8. Practice active listening

When engaged in a conversation, focus on truly understanding the other person's perspective. This not only builds empathy but also helps in evaluating the merits and demerits of different viewpoints.

Conclusion: The path forward

In this era, where AI and technology can blur the lines of reality, critical thinking isn't just a skill—it's a survival tool. By questioning, analyzing, and reflecting, we ensure that we're not just passive consumers of information but active and informed participants in the digital age. 

Remember, in a world where anyone can say anything, it's up to us to discern the truth.

How to educate yourself on AI

If you’re looking to be more informed about AI and brush up on your skills, Pluralsight offers a range of beginner, intermediate, and expert AI and ML courses can help you learn the ins and outs. You can sign up for a 10-day free trial with no commitments, so why not check our courses out (and get over a week of professional upskilling at the very cheap cost of zero dollars?).

Here are some you might want to check out:

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