Brains vs Bots: Is University Education Still Worth It in the Age of AI?

reaching university academic vs ai

While writing yesterday's blog, I received a message from my son: “Passed matric and Got into Auckland Uni💪🔥🎉🎉”. These few words have so much significance in my life as a lifelong learner who teaches at a University, dealing with students, plagiarism, AI cheating and creating my place in the world where my academic efforts matter. Most significantly, my boy-boy is going to university! 😱🤩

So, I have this duality brewing inside me. Is studying for a degree still worth it with the advent of AI, the instant success and fame without degrees marketed to kids online every day? And, of course, there is also the work I have been doing to let go of my cerebral outlook on life—an unfortunate side effect of years of studying.

Working on my heart and learning to trust myself has been a constant focus. For years my philosophy has been “I think, therefore I am” Rene Descartes. Or my personal favourite: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela. Lately, lifelong learning has been made really easy and much more fun by online learning solutions. But, in reality, I probably overdid it. Lately, my focus needed more: “I think too much; therefore, I am not there to live my life”.


New paths / different perspectives

Ultimately, we all have different paths and different perspectives. On my afternoon run yesterday, I noticed another runner take a different path than my usual route and come out at the same park I usually run through. This morning, I decided to walk to the coffee shop where I work. I took his route and discovered a new, beautiful, different path (Photo above).

Life is a little like this: we must walk our path, whatever that path. Then, along the way, we discover different paths. Test them; maybe they are better; maybe they fit our authentic selves better. Then, let's go. Maybe academic work is a tool to reveal paths we never considered.

Education, for the sake of knowledge

University opens up new paths and perspectives on life. The original Academic institutions were places where ideas flourished—trying to figure out how the world works. Many students – not Socrates ;), were financially stable and wanted to gain knowledge (Some while their slaves were doing the work). Knowledge was the objective, not a means to an end, money.

But why study in 2024 when AI is passing standardised tests in many fields better than humans? When Google's AI system outperformed human physicians in diagnosing certain medical conditions and was rated with better bedside manner. We face the opposite of what Socrates faced: too much information rather than too little.

Discernment over information

One reason I can think of is discernment vs mass information. There is so much information out there. Our job becomes to discern what is real, what is true, and what is not. What is valuable and aligned with our own values? Like the wine connoisseurs, we must develop a nose for good information.

Mixing pot of ideas and connections

Universities offer a mixing pot of ideas, just like the Academia of old. Many things we take for granted today have links to Academic institutions. The founders Steve Jobs, Bil Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the founders of Google were at University when they came up with the ideas. Yes, some of them quit their studies. But did the institutions not fulfil the objective of providing a network and a place where ideas thrive?

Preventing Regrets

Then there are the regrets. The ones my father had when he told me, "You have to study". He did not finish his degree and regretted it all his life. I did my lifelong learning correspondence, providing me the opportunity to build a career and expand my horizons. But, I regret not having the student experience when I was young.

Universities are more than just the degrees they bestow. They create lifelong connections. So, my boy-boy, there is your father’s cerebral way of saying. Go to Uni, study anything you want, have fun and make connections. I am so proud of you!

To me, I say, stop overthinking this; notice the beautiful girl at the table next to you!

PS: The title of this article was brainstormed by Bard - thanks, mate! The rest is me, I promise!

Dr Adriaan Buys
Dr Adriaan BuysEnvironmentalist, Speaker & Consultant
Adriaan Buys, the founder of, is a researcher, environmental consultant, speaker and wildlife photographer. With a passion for inspiring change, he tells the stories of nature's plight. Contact him at

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