IN LATE DECEMBER of his sophomore year, Rutgers University student Kai Cobbs came to a conclusion he never thought possible: Artificial intelligence might just be dumber than humans.
After listening to his peers rave about the generative AI tool ChatGPT, Cobbs decided to toy around with the chatbot while writing an essay on the history of capitalism. Best known for its ability to generate long-form written content in response to user input prompts, Cobbs expected the tool to produce a nuanced and thoughtful response to his specific research directions. Instead, his screen produced a generic, poorly written paper he’d never dare to claim as his own.
“The quality of writing was appalling. The phrasing was awkward and it lacked complexity,” Cobbs says. “I just logically can’t imagine a student using writing that was generated through ChatGPT for a paper or anything when the content is just plain bad.”
Not everyone shares Cobbs’ disdain. Ever since OpenAI launched the chatbot in November, educators have been struggling with how to handle a new wave of student work produced with the help of artificial intelligence. While some public school systems, like New York City’s, have banned the use of ChatGPT on school devices and networks to curb cheating, universities have been reluctant to follow suit. In higher education, the introduction of generative AI has raised thorny questions about the definition of plagiarism and academic integrity on campuses where new digital research tools come into play all the time.
Make no mistake, the birth of ChatGPT does not mark the emergence of concerns relating to the improper use of the internet in academia. When Wikipedia launched in 2001, universities nationwide were scrambling to decipher their own research philosophies and understandings of honest academic work, expanding policy boundaries to match pace with technological innovation. Now, the stakes are a little more complex, as schools figure out how to treat bot-produced work rather than weird attributional logistics. The world of higher education is playing a familiar game of catch-up, adjusting their rules, expectations, and perceptions as other professions adjust, too. The only difference now is that the internet can think for itself.
ACCORDING TO CHATGPT, the definition of plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit to the original author. But when the work is generated by something rather than someone, this definition is tricky to apply. As Emily Hipchen, a board member of Brown University’s Academic Code Committee, puts it, the use of generative AI by students leads to a critical point of contention. “If [plagiarism] is stealing from a person,” she says, “then I don’t know that we have a person who is being stolen from.”
Hipchen is not alone in her speculation. Alison Daily, chair of the Academic Integrity Program at Villanova University, is also grappling with the idea of classifying an algorithm as a person, specifically if the algorithm involves text generation.
Daily believes that eventually professors and students are going to need to understand that digital tools that generate text, rather than just collect facts, are going to need to fall under the umbrella of things that can be plagiarized from.
Although Daily acknowledges that this technological growth incites new concerns in the world of academia, she doesn’t find it to be a realm entirely unexplored. “I think we’ve been in a version of this territory for a while already,” Daily says. “Students who commit plagiarism often borrow material from a ‘somewhere’—a website, for example, that doesn’t have clear authorial attribution. I suspect the definition of plagiarism will expand to include things that produce.”
Eventually, Daily believes, a student who uses text from ChatGPT will be seen as no different than one that copies and pastes chunks of text from Wikipedia without attribution.
Link to the rest at Wired
PG never thought of college professors as Luddites, but those mentioned in the OP certainly fit the definition.