A recent educational tempest exploded with the advent of ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence writing apps. Here are some typical headlines from the first weeks after its launch:
ChatGPT: Educational friend or foe? (Brookings)
ChaptGPT is a Plague upon Education (Inside Higher Ed)
Is ChatGPT a threat to education? (UCR News)
ChatGPT, Cheating, and the Future of Education (Harvard Crimson)
Does generative artificial intelligence spell disaster for the schoolhouse? Will teaching children the basics of standard English composition become as “irrelevant” as instruction in cursive handwriting?
Too soon to tell
It is too soon to tell what the long-term ramifications of AI like ChatGPT will be for our overall culture. Great danger lies in the fact that these amazing programs are amoral. As Kevin Roose points out (New York Times, 15 March 2023),
One strange characteristic of today’s A.I. language models is that they often act in ways their makers don’t anticipate, or pick up skills they weren’t specifically programmed to do.
Oren Etzioni, Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, observes,
Considerable problems of bias and neutrality aside, one of the most significant challenges facing AI researchers is how to give neural networks the kind of decision-making and rationalization skills we learn as children.
Linguist Noam Chomsky sees a vast difference between language-generating programs and the human mind. ChatGPT, he says, is “a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data….” Instead, the human mind “is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information.” (NYT 8 March 2023).
AI in the classroom
Yes, ChatGPT will be used by feckless students to cheat on their writing requirements.
Lazy and incompetent students already pay others to do their research and writing for them. Enthusiastic reviews for such services pervade the web. Here’s an example from a Yahoo entertainment site.
In this article, we’ll explore three of the best sites that can do your assignments for you, saving you time and stress. So if you’re ready to take a load off your shoulders, keep reading to find out more!
Here’s what the writer says about his “top-rated assignment help service”:
This assignment writing service provides plagiarism free content, and offers expert writers with broad knowledge in an enormous variety of subjects.
The site charges $5.85 per hundred words for high school papers, $6.77 per hundred words for college papers, and $10.64 per hundred words for Ph.D. papers.
Use determines value
ChatGPT is a tool. How tools are used is determined by the people who use them.
What Sir Philip Sydney said in defense of the art of poetry more than 400 years ago applies to ChatGPT:
“With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy prince and country.”
The language capabilities of AI are already proving their value for teachers and the disabled.
Now that the initial shock is wearing off, teachers are embracing the new technology to help them with the paperwork load that goes with the job.
Fiona Given, a lawyer and research associate at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, is looking forward to the day when ChatGPT can interface with speech-to-text technology.
Given has cerebral palsy. She can average only about 18 words a minute with her device. Hooking into ChatGPT will enable her to expand her ideas in her writing.
Brains still matter
ChatGTP is a little like self-driving cars—to be used with caution. The person in the driver’s seat needs to remain alert and in charge.
AI writing programs are marvelous tools, but only tools. People still need to master the basics of writing and furnish their minds with accurate information.
Teachers (and parents) are still responsible for seeing that children master the fundamental skills of literacy by the end of middle school.