Opinion by Jackson Hare, Campus News Editor
Beginning this semester, students may have noticed an added stipulation found in the academic integrity section of their class syllabi: the use of ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence (AI) on assignments.
With ChatGPT’s launch in Nov. 2022, it has become increasingly popular as media, academia and the public have begun discussing the implications of AI in all aspects of daily life. While many people have brought forth a number of valid concerns about ethics, job displacement, privacy concerns and potential biases, I feel that it can be a valuable tool.
Turning to its use in the academic setting, of course the natural concern for some professors is that it could be used to write papers in a hard-to-detect method of cheating. Having played around with ChatGPT myself, I have to agree that this is totally possible. However, there are a number of limits of this AI that I feel are rather advantageous for educational use.
First, ChatGPT works best as a tool for collecting and summarizing information. It is not this sentient program capable of thought that many perceive it to be. At best, it is a remarkably interactive search engine. That is not to say its capabilities aren’t impressive and indeed worthy of important discussions as we look at its widespread use.
This limitation is the very distinction that makes us human and ChatGPT a program and a database. As humans, we have a much greater ability to analyze, make connections, apply knowledge, experience and conceptualize ideas in new contexts. Now, I don’t think ChatGPT is entirely incapable of analysis, but by no means is it to the same degree as humans.
Additionally, try asking ChatGPT about current events. It will tell you that its knowledge base only pertains to information available prior to Sept. 2021. This means it lacks all knowledge of any sort of current events that might be relevant to me, a Philosophy, Politics and the Public major, if I were to use it on an assignment for example.
This distinction is instrumental in regards to the academic implications of AI. For one, it’s a ridiculous notion to ask students to avoid using a resource that appears to be becoming an ever-present part of our reality. That said, with ChatGPT’s primary and most effective function being to summarize and recall information, if a student can use the program to complete an assignment without contributing their own writing, I have a hard time believing that assignment was very valuable.
This is to say that yes, AI has shown itself capable of functioning in ways that are far more efficient and precise than what a human is capable of. It’s no longer enough to just be able to recall information, because why ask students to do so when a program can do so instantaneously? When we look at this in a greater context, this is scary for some because it could mean the loss of countless jobs, and I don’t mean to ignore that implication. However, in an academic setting, I feel it forces institutions to reevaluate curriculum in a way that shifts its values towards creativity, critical thinking and concept application in modern contexts, which is just the sort of value shift liberal arts universities have been seeking.
This fear of AI replacing humans as it accounts for certain skills and tasks more efficiently spawns from the Western prioritization of labor and efficiency as a measure of human value. A program being able to outperform humans, in this realm of thinking, critically endangers the value of some of humanity, more particularly marginalized people with low-income jobs that are more easily automated and disposable. However, from a perspective that appreciates humanity for more than its productivity, AI provides an antithesis that functions to highlight the unparalleled elements that constitute the human experience. These are certainly harder to define, but this pushes us in a direction towards innovation, seeking to discover what humans versus AI are capable of.
To think AI may eventually be able to perform all the functions of a human is a rather pessimistic view of humanity that serves no benefit.