OPINION: Artificial Intelligence, college and the world beyond

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

Since the early 20th century, artificial intelligence has captivated the minds and imaginations of Americans and people around the globe. What began as a far-fetched piece of science fiction has become real-life, increasingly so in recent years.

As technology has advanced, governments and organizations have found a number of ways to put it to use, and not all of them have been positively received. China, for example, has utilized AI technology for mass surveillance of its population through things like facial recognition. The authoritarian government has long been known to keep tabs on its citizens, collecting large amounts of data, but AI technology has created more ways to collect more information.

With the introduction of ChatGPT, however, AI has found additional uses in even more industries. According to its website, ChatGPT “[is trained to interact] in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.” The nature of AI also means that it never generates the exact same answer twice.

This conversational way of generating responses to just about any prompt it is given is what makes it one of the most powerful AI tools available. For the same reason, AI is a possible hindrance to education. 

An obvious use for ChatGPT is the writing of essays. Forbes magazine, for example, had ChatGPT write two college admissions essays. Because of the powerful nature, how much the program “knows” and how much the program is able to mimic human writing and conversation, it can be difficult to spot AI use in class assignments. A student could put the prompt of an assignment and have ChatGPT write a response in minutes (I’m not saying you should, though).

This can obviously hurt a student’s education. Should a student put an assignment into ChatGPT and get a good grade, the rest of the class is at a disadvantage. Students may put a lot of time into an assignment for a professor to grade poorly because it is not as well written or informed as the AI-written piece. And, of course, there is the fact that there is no actual learning taking place in these instances. Outlets like the New York Times have written stories highlighting the difficulties teachers and professors have faced since ChatGPT was released to the public in November.

This doesn’t mean that AI should be banned in education, however. In some classes professors can be more open to the use of AI in general, often using it to create hypotheticals and to illustrate points more clearly. AI can create in-depth scenarios that provide the classroom with the ability to put what they have learned to work.

Banning AI isn’t going to stop the use of it. As technology advances, AI’s uses will only grow in number and become more widely used around the world. Like with other technology, we can adapt to it. In January, OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, released a program that’s purpose is to detect whether something was written by a human or by AI. The program’s website does state that “our classifier is not fully reliable,” but tools like these will only grow in number and complexity, which can help more accurately detect something written by AI.

Plagiarism detectors like Turnitin have been developing AI detection tools that can be used by schools to crack down on AI usage, too. Tools like this, while new, will only continue to develop and help restore academic integrity in schools, colleges, and universities.

To demonstrate the power of AI, I asked ChatGPT to write something for this piece, entering the following prompt: “Write an article about the history of Western Kentucky University for the university’s student-run newspaper, the College Heights Herald. It should be less than 500 words.”

What follows in italics is ChatGPT’s response:

Western Kentucky University (WKU) has a rich history dating back to its founding in 1906 as the Western Kentucky State Normal School. The institution was created to train teachers for the state of Kentucky, and its first classes were held in the Southern Methodist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

In 1922, the institution’s name was changed to Western Kentucky State Teachers College, and it began offering four-year degrees in education. The institution continued to grow and expand its offerings, becoming Western Kentucky State College in 1948 and eventually Western Kentucky University in 1966.

Throughout its history, WKU has remained committed to its mission of providing high-quality education to its students. The institution has consistently been recognized for its academic excellence and has been named one of the top public universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.

WKU has also played a significant role in the cultural and social life of the Bowling Green community. The university’s cultural and arts programs have brought world-renowned artists and performers to the region, and its sports teams have provided the community with countless exciting moments and victories.

In recent years, WKU has continued to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of its students and the community. The university has embraced new technologies and innovative teaching methods to enhance the educational experience for its students. It has also developed partnerships with local businesses and organizations to provide students with valuable internship and employment opportunities.

Today, WKU is a thriving institution with over 18,000 students and a wide range of academic programs to choose from. The university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields ranging from business and engineering to education and the arts.

WKU is also known for its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The institution has a long history of welcoming students from all backgrounds and has been recognized for its efforts to create an inclusive and welcoming campus environment.

As WKU looks to the future, it remains committed to its core values of academic excellence, cultural enrichment, and community engagement. The university is dedicated to preparing students for success in the 21st century and to creating a better future for the region and the world.

In conclusion, WKU has a rich history of academic excellence, community engagement, and cultural enrichment. As the university looks to the future, it remains committed to its mission of providing high-quality education and preparing students for success in a rapidly changing world.

As you can see, ChatGPT’s response to the question I posed is surprisingly well-written. It answers the question in the parameters given. Had I not put it into ChatGPT myself, I would have believed it was written and edited by a human that has a wide knowledge on all things WKU history.

I took paragraphs from the above piece and searched them online, looking to see if the AI program was writing something original or if it was pulling excerpts from off the internet. Each time I searched a paragraph there were no results. ChatGPT is creating an original piece each time you ask it to write something, increasing my awe of what AI can do.

It is scary how well-written AI pieces can be, and it presents an obvious threat to academic integrity. ChatGPT is a very powerful AI tool that has countless uses, however. We cannot shy away from this technology. Yes, its uses can be detrimental to education, and these should not be ignored. Its wider applications, however, can help solve problems around the world. It can help find new, creative answers to questions and solutions to problems.

Yes, AI seems scary, but doesn’t all technology when it is first developed? If we let our fear about technology rule over us, we would have never done things like land a man on the moon or allowed smartphones to become such large parts of our lives.

When announcing his intention to go to the moon in a speech at Rice University in 1962, President John F. Kennedy said that “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” AI’s uses and applications are endless, and we must find its limits both technologically and morally not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Finding the best uses for AI will require trial and error, but we can do it and make it into something that can help people.

We do not know where AI is going, but let’s find out together. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Commentary Editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

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