GhatGPT has made quite a splash in the past few weeks. Students claim they've been getting straight As submitting AI-written answers to assignment prompts. Teachers feel depressed that they will waste their life on marking computer-generated essays and begin to reconsider their life choices. Academics argue whether AI can be considered a source of information or a co-author, and if so, should it be treated as a sentient being?
It looks like a revolution. Something that breaks history into "before" and "after." Yet is it, really? Can AI write an essay like a human would? Is it finally free essays that can't be traced for anyone? Are days of bothersome outlining, editing, and proofreading numbered? I'm glad you asked! Strap in – it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Is ChatGPT an AI Essay Generator?
ChatGPT is a chatbot. It is built on top of GPT-3 natural language processing models created by the OpenAI research company. OpenAI has also developed Dall-E – an AI system producing images on demand that made quite a stir earlier.
GPT in the name stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer," which gives us a clue as to how the whole thing works. It generates text based on the vast pools of data it can access and has processed earlier: scholarly articles, blogs, opinion pieces in online periodic, free essays in open access, etc.
GPT-3 family of language models has been out in public use since 2020. The new kid on the block, ChatGPT, is simply a new interface optimized for dialogue. The main difference from its predecessors is that it "remembers" previous queries in the current conversation, so it can adjust its answers based on user feedback.
The creators of the ChatGPT intended it to be an educational aid. Imagine a personal instructor for every student that answers questions and explains course material in terms that a student will understand best. Sound like a dream! The range of subjects and functions is also impressive. GhatGPT can debug computer code, compose music, answer test questions, write poetry in the style of anyone from Shakespeare to modern hip-hop artists, create fairy tales and songs, and – yes – generate essays, among other things. Of course, students jumped on this opportunity before anyone could say "academic integrity."
However, ChatGPT isn't the only (nor is it the first) AI that writes essays. In fact, students were using various AI tools to outsource some of the busy work they found meaningless for years. Some popular names include Writesonic, OpenAI's Playground, Sudowrite, EleutherAI's GPT-J-6B, Jasper AI, Copymatic, The Good AI, ContentBot, Article Forge, Rytr, and FlackedAI.
Yes, ChatGPT is made very usable and flexible with the dialog model. Still, the technology has been around long enough for students to try it out and master it. So where are all the robot essays disrupting traditional school?
Can AI Paper Writer Get You an A?
Academics reacted to AI's new possibilities in the classroom in various ways. Some said that this spells doom for education and the future of the human race since no one will learn anything. We will slowly degenerate, rotting our brains with TikTok. Others were enthusiastic about the new possibilities.
For example, Scott Graham, an associate professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas, has conducted a curious experiment and shared the results of it in his article for Inside Higher Ed. He asked his students to submit an essay created with the help of any AI of their choice. They were allowed to edit, change paragraph order, add transition phrases for coherency, remove obvious repetitions, etc. Feeding AI multiple prompts to obtain an optimum result was also okay. The primary condition was: the essay must be "mostly written by AI."
The outcome? Underwhelming. First of all, according to Graham, were the essays student-written, the best of the lot submitted in the experiment would yield C or even C-. Yet most importantly, the students reportedly hated this assignment. They said it took them almost as long as it would take to write the essay themselves, plus high-achievers were embarrassed for the sub-par result they were handing in.
So, what's the catch? Where are all the straight As that some people boast about on Reddit and other platforms coming from?
The answer quite possibly lies with the complexity of the prompt. Graham asked students to write an essay about local issues they found important. Students often complain about high tuition fees, unobtainable campus accommodations, or hoops one must jump through to register for a computer science class. AI could pick up on that, but in justification, it used outdated facts, such as quotes from former university presidents presented as currently holding the position. Yet most bemusing was its propensity to reference fictional professors and non-existent student organizations. Of course, students could have fact-checked and verified every argument, but it would be even more labor-intensive.
In contrast, AI-generated assignments that anonymous users claim to be A-worthy were allegedly bland and straightforward questions about the class material. For example, the benefits and the downsides of biotech, the reasons behind the Great Depression, etc. Such prompts leave no space for students to analyze the issue or give their opinions. They ask merely to regurgitate well-known facts on which consensus has been reached in the academic community.
This type of assignment seems boring to me. The only purpose of it is to verify students' knowledge of facts, which can be achieved by other means without wasting so much time. No wonder students tried to game the system.
What Are the Implications of Auto Essay Writer for Education?
Whichever your stand on AI, one thing is certain – it's not going anywhere, despite the calls to ban the technology or at least regulate its use in colleges and universities. Yet let's not be hypocrites. The use of AI is nothing new in academia. Plagiarism detectors and grading aids for tests, certain stages of college application revisions (though not the personal essay by the fervent assurances of many admission officers) – instructors have been outsourcing boring stuff too!
Moreover, AI-powered tools were at students' disposal before, and no one batted an eyelid. How come?
Suppose I use Hemingway or Grammarly to revise my essay. These editors use natural language processing algorithms too. If the app suggests rephrasing for clearer structure and changing some awkward wording, is this unauthorized assistance? Where is the line where my original writing stops being mine and can be classified as written by a robot? It's an interesting question that we are yet to answer.
Another question is plagiarism. The text generated by an AI is unique and passes Turnitin checks. Yet it doesn't cite the sources for every piece of information it presents, so technically, it plagiarizes. To fix this, a student must hunt down all the facts and opinions given in the text, which is quite a hassle.
Moreover, AI often draws data from unverified and untrustworthy sources, hoovering data indiscriminately from all over the internet. ChatGPT downright invents data to spin a good yarn. It doesn't understand academic integrity – at least, not yet. It doesn't understand the fundamental difference between a fairy tale and an essay beyond style and form. You have to fact-check and correct its statements.
Many experts agree that it's too much work to cheat that way. Does it mean that AI is useless for students? Not in the slightest! Besides the intended use for instruction and explaining, professors like Scott Graham see endless possibilities.
One is cognitive offloading. Humanity has been using technology to free some mental space for ages. For example, we invented writing, so we no longer had to keep everything in our memory. Another example is a calculator. We delegate the burden of subtraction and multiplication to machines. Instead, we make more space for other cognitive processes that help us make sense of this world. Similarly, we can offload the most tedious parts of the writing process and delegate them to AI to become more efficient. It doesn't mean that we will be using our brains less.
Another use of AI is teaching students how to edit. Too often, writer's block makes students procrastinate until the eleventh hour. Then they hurriedly jot down their first (and only) draft and submit it without any alterations. Whereas editing is one of the crucial stages of writing. With AI, you can no longer dread the blank page. You can generate your first draft and practice editing it. When you see the magic that editing does to raw and nonsensical text, you learn to appreciate the process.
Finally, AI teaches students to ask the right questions. Coming up with a prompt on which AI would return a coherent and logical answer is a skill in itself – and many academics agree that it must be taught. Finding the right topic, deciding on the perspective, and coming up with points that are necessary to cover are crucial stages of the writing process. AI is a great tool to demonstrate the importance of prewriting: if you ask a silly question, you get a silly answer. If you can't brainstorm an interesting topic for an essay, you will end up with a meh paper – and it doesn't matter whether you'll write it yourself or generate it with an AI.
The Verdict: AI Can Fake Essays That Are Mostly Useless Anyway
AI saturates all spheres of our lives. It helps journalists to track trending topics. It recommends content on streaming platforms and suggests relevant ads. It allows researchers to process vast amounts of data and look for patterns. Educators, too, will embrace AI in the classroom and teach students how to use it to prepare them for the future workplace.
AI is just another new technology revolutionizing education. Still, it doesn't spell the end of it – just the end of generic essays like "Reasons Behind World War I" or "Pros and Cons of Technology in Education." Teachers will give students more challenging, thought-provoking prompts instead of such busy work. The rule of thumb would be something like: if AI can return a coherent human-like answer to that, the question is meaningless.
After all, if the prompt requires that the writer apply critical thinking, AI fails miserably because, despite the name, it's anything but intelligent. It has access to immense volumes of information. It is capable of retrieving any piece of it on demand. Still, it cannot create new knowledge from it, which is the entire point of academia and essay writing in particular.
What does it mean for you as a student? Witnessing a big cultural shift and being a part of it. Doing less of the monotonous tasks and more exciting, ground-breaking work. Sure sounds like good news to me! And yes, you will still have to write essays and revise for exams.