This is what the techbros are excited about? Really?

Some 2300 years ago in ancient Greece, Plato wrote a dialogue featuring his mentor Socrates, who argued that the ability to churn out the longest written compositions on trivial topics or the shortest compositions on important topics is a shallow skill that has nothing to do with human understanding, much like demonstrating that you can pluck the highest and lowest notes on a lyre is only a tiny part of what we expect a skilled musician can do (Phaedrus).

As a member of a culture that did its most important work orally, Plato was reacting to people who advocated saving time and boosting productivity by using what was at the time cutting-edge technology — reading words from a scroll, rather than taking the time to learn a subject well enough to be able to convey confidence and share wisdom through extemporaneous speeches.

While preparing some remarks for an event I was asked to facilitate at the last moment, I came across an item with a promising-sounding headline. When I read it, though, I was at first disappointed, then suspicious, and finally annoyed. (Disappointing and cringeworthy AI-generated sludge.)

AI generated image that relates in no meaningful way to the content of the page on which it appears.Amidst the ever-spiraling advancements in technology, one academic titan has set its eyes on a visionary horizon.

Let’s consider the language of the above particular sentence.

By definition, “advancements” are good, but “ever-spiraling” seems to suggest “spiraling out of control.”

We are introduced to the contrasting focus of a “titan” with eyes fixed on a horizon. Even though that horizon has been labeled “visionary,” we’re still asked to see a contrast between the spiral of advancement and this horizontal gaze.

I you know nothing at all about higher education, the bold language and apparent confidence of this article might not make you question whether “academic titan” is an appropriate description of the University of Phoenix. a private, for-profit, open-admission, online-only university — ranked 386th out of 391 in Washington Monthly’s 2021 list of national universities.

Within the hallowed digital and physical archives of the University (a href=””>University of Phoenix), lies the epitome of this doctrine. It’s not merely a set of rules, but a lexicon of empowerment, ensuring that students are not passive spectators but active architects of their futures with AI as their chisel.

Note the glaringly exposed HTML, which contrasts with the polished veneer suggested by elevated language.

Because the University of Phoenix markets itself as an online university, even though it does have a few physical campuses, that reference to “physical archives” is jarring. Yes, the physicality of a university is part of its ethos, a signifier of its gravitas, and very useful for alumni associations who are raising funds for a new building.

Another section from this same article includes the transition, “As their students stride through the halls of learning,” which again invokes the physicality of a university, but the previous paragraph begins with, “Stripping away the usual cap and gown of didactic instruction,” which likens the University of Phoenix to discarding a different physical manifestation of academic accomplishment.

I’ve sampled just a few of the bizarre, awkward tensions in this piece — like “architect” and “chisel”. Mixed metaphors, breathlessly elevated language, and a combination of impeccably correct grammar and total lack of specificity all really jump out at me.

The germ of this story seems to be a University of Phoenix press release in which associate provost Emily Brueker comments on changes to the UofP code of conduct. 

Brueker’s name is invoked in the context of the University of Phoenix updating its code of academic conduct in some manner that offers “ a groundwork to mold that knowledge within the forge of a burgeoning AI-centric society” — whatever that means. This is the textual equivalent of strikingly well-lit and impossibly detailed AI portraites of people with distorted bodies and hollow stares. (Is that metaphorical mold on the ground or in a forge?)

The article appears on a website called  Anyone can buy a web address and put whatever they want there. While the contents of .gov and .edu websites are generally a bit more trustworthy than the contents of .com or .org sites, anyone who praises the credibility of websites that end with speciality terms like .news, .biz is probably trying to sell you something. (A visit to “” calls up an architectural design firm that’s completely unrelated to the content on “” clearly identifies itself as the “York County School of Technology.)

The banner on includes categories News, AI, Phones, Mobile, Healthcare, EV, Military, Starlink, ChatGPT and Contact.

The site offers no hint what the “y” in “ytech” stands for, there’s no “about” page that might offer a hint about what criteria the websites uses for determining what to publish, and the “contact” page is simply a web form.

The article is credited to Michał Rogucki, who according to his bio is “a pioneering figure in the field of renewable energy, particularly known for his work on solar power innovations,” which does not exactly position him as an authority on higher education.

Because this article refers to the University of Phoenix as an “academic titan,” and because the text both invokes the physicality of academia and celebrates its disruption, without actually referring to the University of Phoenix’s success at attracting online students, or to the criticism it receives as low-value “diploma mill,” I see nothing of actual value in this article — no single insight, no productive juxtaposition of ideas, no application, no meaningful evaluation, no spark of human engagement.

And why would I?

I started drafting this post Friday morning, then I took a break for a few hours, and when I returned, “Rugacki” had posted four more items, each with another AI-generated image. I count 45 articles credited to “Michał Rogucki” published on that day. 

Not a single one has attracted any comments from visitors. I haven’t found a single link from anywhere else on the internet to any page on 

But the content doesn’t matter. 

Yes, it’s an accomplishment to churn out that much text, with so little actual effort.

As part of information literacy, I’m going to have to put more effort into helping my students spot the difference between grammatically correct word salad and thoughtful compositions.

Plato complained that people reading from scrolls might *sound* intelligent, but he understood oratory as something different than “pronouncing words accurately and giving an audience something to listen to.” 

For Plato, using rhetoric to persuade didn’t mean memorizing a speech and reciting it by rote.  Rather, the good “rhetors” know their chosen topic and the medium of speech so well that they can freestyle with confidence, reading the room and remixing their content on the fly — skills that you simply can’t do if you are reading word-for-word from a scroll.

Plato fretted that if his students kept relying on the written word as a short-cut to mimicking the art of giving an effective speech, their memory would suffer, they would have false confidence but no wisdom, they’d be difficult to work with, and, you know, kids today…

Was he wrong?  Can’t we all tell the difference between someone who’s speaking from the heart on a topic they are invested in, and someone who’s filling time reading word-for-word from a Wikipedia article they sent through a text spinner?

The printing press was a short-cut to mimicking the labor of calligraphers who laboriously copied the manuscripts sanctioned by their sponsors, and still today the culture wars over libraries remind us that some powerful people still see books — the ideas in certain books — as threats to their world view.

I was on the leading edge of another disruptive transition when I started using a word-processor on my schoolwork as a middle-schooler around 1980, and I’d say my wife was on the trailing edge, turning in hand-written final research papers as an undergraduate in 1990. 

In 1960, marketing expert Theodore Levitt wrote that the automotive industry easily overtook the railroad industry because railroad executives “assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business.”

Was he wrong?

I’m perfectly happy that my students use spell-checkers and grammar-checkers, because I’m not in the grammar and punctuation business, or the handwriting business, or even the essay-writing business.

I am in the business of teaching students to think critically about their world and their place in it, using the English language.  AI is part of that world, and as part of an educational community we are doing the right thing thing interrogating the impact on AI on what we consider the core of our mission.

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