Artificial intelligence

QWERTYMAN - Jose Dalisay - The Philippine Star

Dr. Chichoy Carabuena had a problem. He wanted the school he owned and ran – the Generoso Carabuena Academy of Pedagogy in Santa Vicenta – to place higher in both national and international rankings, partly so he could raise tuition fees and also so he could claim bragging rights among his university-president friends and drinking buddies. He had inherited the school from his grandfather; Generoso Carabuena was a banker who had collaborated with the Japanese and stolen the money they left behind to open a school for teachers, which was his wife’s dream, becoming a war hero in the process for outsmarting the enemy.

The school had done well enough to the point that Chichoy’s dad, Ramoncito, could buy a Mercury Capri that he regularly drove to Manila to carouse in its nightclubs. Chichoy was the product of one of Ramoncito’s dalliances with the agreeable ladies, and it fell on him to rescue both the business and the family name from ruin and disrepute. He had been managing a carinderia for Pinoy workers in Dubai when the call came and, always wanting to become someone of substance, he returned to Sta. Vicenta to turn the daughters and sons of hog butchers and vegetable growers into teachers, like he imagined himself to be. Surely higher education wasn’t all that different from running a restaurant and coming up with the right menu at the right price for your customers. He had secretly dreamed of becoming a mayor, a congressman or even governor, but first, he had to make a name for himself and make money.

Somewhere along the way he picked up a “Dr.” from a diploma mill and dressed the part, coming to his office even in the warmest of days in coat and tie. “More than anything else,” he would lecture his new recruits, “first impressions count, so before you even become a teacher, you have to look like a teacher, walk like a teacher and sound like a teacher!” He had a faux marble statue made of his grandfather to greet visitors at the school entrance, and another one of Jose Rizal standing behind Generoso, as if looking on in approval.

But lest people think he was beholden to the past, Chichoy Carabuena peppered his speeches with 21st-century mantras like “disruption,” “innovation,” “sustainability,” “customer-centric” and, yes, “21st-century.” “The great challenge to higher education today,” he would often declaim, “is to produce graduates attuned to a global climate of disruption and innovation, mindful of evolving needs and opportunities in the marketplace of ideas while seeking sustainable and synergistic 21st-century solutions to problems rooted in our feudal and neocolonial history.”

Those speeches were written for him by his former executive assistant named Mildred, a UP graduate whom he had to fire when his wife discovered them smooching in his office – an act he vehemently insisted to be no more than a paternal gesture, much like a former president’s public bequeathal of a kiss on a married woman, a defense that gained no ground. His wife personally chose his next EA, a former SAF commando named Dogbert; making the best of the situation, Chichoy paraded Dogbert around as his bodyguard, spreading the rumor that his life was under threat from unspecified enemies determined to keep the quality of Philippine education down. “We can give them no quarter,” he declared at the last CHED event he attended. “We must resist, with all impunity, those who aim to keep our poor people shackled to the twin pillars of ignorance and idiocy!” He missed Mildred in those moments, but he felt quite pleased with his growing self-sufficiency in speechwriting, thanks to his new discovery, ChatGPT. Of course, it never quite came up to his standards, so he tweaked the prose here and there, like that reference to Samson that he hoped would bring the house down.

But now, reading the reports of top Philippine universities slipping in their rankings in the usual Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli-Symonds surveys, Dr. Carabuena saw an opportunity for his modest HEI to rise. “As their mystique diminishes, so our aura will grow,” he informed an indifferent Dogbert. “We just need to come up with sustainable innovations that will disrupt the status quo.” Dogbert handed him a slim folder. “Sir, someone wants to see you, to apply for the position of academic vice president.” It was a position that Chichoy himself had held concurrently to save on salaries, but now he felt obliged to pass it on to a real expert. He flipped the folder open and saw the picture of a cute Chinese-looking woman going by the name of “Dr. Alice Kuan.” Chichoy was mesmerized. “Send her in – and get out!”

When Dr. Alice Kuan stepped into Chichoy’s office, he felt himself enveloped in a miasma of jasmine, peonies and five spices – everything good he remembered from his only visit to China many years ago. Her lips were lotus-pink, her skin ivory-white and here and there dumplings suggested themselves to his imagination. “Good morning, Dr. Kuan! Please, have a seat! You’re here to apply for the AVP job?”

“Yes, Mr. President,” she said with a quarter-moon smile, “and I come with many ideas for both improving your curriculum and raising revenues through academic innovations.”

“Innovations! I like that! Like what?”

“Why artificial intelligence, of course! We could use AI to teach many of our courses, reducing costs. Also, we could bring in more foreign students from – uhm – friendly neighboring countries, while creating part-time employment opportunities for them in – uhm – online entertainment, for which we could even lease out some of your campus property. It would create a huge economic boost for Sta. Vicenta!”

Temple bells rang in Chichoy’s mind. Not only was she fetching; she was smart! Suddenly he could see his political future brightening. He wanted to know more about this adorable avatar, and only then did he notice how patchy her resume was.

“Your birth certificate was filed when you were…17?”

“Was it? I don’t remember.”

“Which elementary school did you go to?”

“I don’t remember. Maybe homeschooling?” She threw him an exasperated sigh. “Look, Dr. Carabuena, does it matter? I can have AI do a perfect resume if that’s what you want. If not, I can take my ideas to the Fontebello Institute of Technology in San Bonito just an hour away, and maybe they’ll be more receptive to disruptive innovations…”

“No, no, no! Disruptive, I like disruptive! Please, Dr. Kuan, stay in your seat! I’ll have somebody prepare your contract. Dogbert!”

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Email me at [email protected] and visit my blog at www.penmanila.ph.

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