My nightmare (satirical) projection for the future of the university

In his Guardian article on the encroachment of artificial intelligence into university essay writing, Jeff Sparrow suggests—with faint hope—that tackling the AI challenge might ‘spur us to recognise genuine knowledge’.

As I leave higher education this month after a forty-year run, I despair of the kind of scenario mentioned by Sparrow, where an AI-generated essay could be marked by an AI assessment program, bypassing learning and knowledge altogether. This scenario fails at least two of the five challenges that Luciano Floridi poses for AI in his Full-on robot writing’: the artificial intelligence challenge facing universities (1), i.e. that ‘we should make AI’s stupidity work for human intelligence’ and that ‘we should make AI make us more human’.

I fervently hope that scholars like Floridi and Professor Dagmar Monett (2) will help avert the potential damage to higher education by a misplaced faith in the ‘I’ part of AI.

My way of blowing off intellectual steam is through writing fiction, and it’s no coincidence that my latest novel The True History of Jude includes a satirical swipe at an industry that I am about to exit. I leave with deep worries for the future—the role of AI in academic writing being one of them.

The book combines a coming-of-age-tale, a time-shifting love story, and a reimagining of a Thomas Hardy novel—all embedded in a dystopian setting. And as a fantasy, it gave me the power to project a set of contemporary themes to their potential extremes: I predicted a climate-ravaged and depopulated Australia leased to the world community for uranium mining, a corporatised global authoritarian system controlled by an Australian royal dynasty, and the destruction of artistic creativity under the crushing conformity of an information monopoly. And of course there’s a university.

Could it happen?

When I was studying Russian in the USSR in 1974, could I have imagined the fall of the Soviet empire? When we basked in the Australian summer of 2019, could we have imagined a pandemic that would upend the world?

In my version of the future, the Australian monarchy is the world’s first virtual state, having excised itself from its own territory(3). The Palace operates from leased premises at Oxford University. Across the city is the exiled campus of an Australian university (you’ll have to buy the book to find which one). It’s from here that the elderly Professor Susan Bridehead writes fawning hagiographies of the Australian royals, and teaches history to their offspring and aristocratic cronies whose royal stipends make it unnecessary for them to get jobs. The students return year after year to take the same courses, some even passing away from old age during lectures. Cosplay is a campus obsession: This year’s theme is Medieval, and Susan has to ask all the ladies wearing tall wimples to sit at the back to avoid blocking the lecture hall sightlines.

And last but definitely not least, under the ‘Standardised Study for Success Strategy’, students are obliged to produce their essays with the university’s in-house AI text generator. All grades are randomly generated.

It’s satire of course, but I’m certain that many academics will identify the threads I’ve pulled to weave scenarios such as: The banning of paper and handwriting; proscription of works of fiction; the training of professionals not at the university but in online polytechnics run by a consortium of three global consulting companies.

Could it happen? Could our current students imagine the kind of degree I took in the UK in the seventies? No internet, no credit point system, no fees, no assignment mills, no student surveys.

And all run by humans.


1. Floridi, Luciano, Ultraintelligent Machines, Singularity, and Other Sci-fi Distractions about AI (September 18, 2022). Lavoro, Diritti, Europa –, Available at SSRN:

2. Prof Monett tweets at @dmonett a well-informed commentary on the hype surrounding AI.

3. The Australian Parliament excised the mainland from Australia’s migration zone in 2013.

© 2022 Stuart Campbell

“Book Review: The True History of Jude” Reviewed by Erica Ball

The story of a rebellious woman and the power of our stories, even in a world where truth is not welcome 

The True History of Jude is an epistolary novel about a bleak dystopian future in which the geopolitical structure of the world has drastically changed. Due to massive environmental upheaval caused by climate change, many countries, including Australia, face grave uncertainty about the future of their cities and the people who live in them.  

When a pivotal moment strikes in the form of a tsunami, a complex political plan years in the making is triggered and the fates of millions are rewritten in an instant.  

One hundred years into this new world order we find Susan Bridehead, an eminent historian. We learn about her through letters to a friend in America she calls Alex. She has been tasked with writing the history of her country from its inception after the tsunami, but her history must be approved at the highest levels, and so it must match the official version of events. Basically, it must not tell the truth.  

At the age of seventy, Sue is experiencing worrying symptoms and is convinced her body is in decline. Perhaps this is why she dares to defy the law and begin to write what she calls a “true history,” namely the story of her prior life in the lawless lands back in Australia. Curiously she tells the story through the eyes of someone she knew there, Jude, rather than her own.  

Because of this, the reader is never really sure how much of Sue’s story is actually true. Everything we see is in either a letter to Alex or Sue’s version of events as she thinks they might have seemed through the eyes of Jude. Add to this the fact that memories are often unreliable in and of themselves, and the whole book is given an eerie dreamlike feeling. It really does make the mind go in circles.  

Fittingly, the elements of Jude and Sue’s backstory—the setting, people, and challenges to cover basic necessities—are visceral, but similarly dreamlike and even at times nightmarish. Their story takes place among the people left behind on the devastated Australian continent. They are complex and imperfect people trying to make any kind of life for themselves and make any kind of sense of this horrifyingly imperfect world.  

They must navigate a society in which the systems that are supposed to be in place need to be reinvented and completely rebuilt. After the collapse, everything needs to be figured out again: language, religion, economy, currency, power, goods, labor, basic know-how, and craftsmanship. And every one of these is open to being corrupted or perverted by the wrong person. Every community is left to its own devices and so evolves in its own way. 

It is striking how different people react to the same events in drastically different ways.  

Though very accessible to any genre reader, this book is highly recommended to those interested in near-future stories with chillingly possible trajectories. The political and social issues depicted are thought-provoking, and thus it would be excellent for book clubs that enjoy serious discussions. 

In many ways, it is a thought experiment with a terrifying premise: What would happen if the greatest powers in the world—those of government, military, and corporations were to join forces or be joined under a single will? As such, it is a look at how change can come gradually or in a single cataclysmic event. Of how freedoms can be slowly whittled away even if it’s obvious what is happening because no one has any idea what to do about it. Is there even anything to do about it, once such forces are at work?

Thank you for your interest in my latest novel, available here on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), Apple, Kobo, and other vendors – Stuart Campbell.