AI Chat-GPT developments provoke discussion in academic spheres

Nazaaha Penick, News Reporter

ChatGPT, the cutting-edge language generation model developed by OpenAI, is revolutionizing the way researchers and students approach language-based tasks in the academic world. On Nov. 22, 2022, ChatGPT was released to the public and quickly garnered attention due to its ability to write computer programs, compose music, answer test questions and more. The increasing integration of artificial intelligence into our daily lives has provoked concerns over the misuse of AI, such as the use of ChatGPT in academia. 

At Whitman, professors recognize ChatGPT’s capabilities with caution. Professor of Computer Science Janet Davis described how ChatGPT and other generative AI operate. 

“Generative AI is artificial intelligence that generates new stuff as opposed to categorizing, labeling or measuring,” Davis said. “All AI-generated text I had seen in the past had either been very obviously not written by a human being, in that it just didn’t make sense, or just following a very obvious, very formulaic pattern. ChatGPT looked like something new, in that it was generating some very readable, plausible-looking text.”

Illustration by Kai Bowen.

Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar finds the proficiency of ChatGPT alarming. He argues that the use of ChatGPT for writing assignments is a form of “intellectual surrender.” 

“You don’t earn your thoughts, you don’t do your thinking, but you rely on thinking by a machine,” Majumdar said. “People may say, ‘I don’t have the time, I’ll let a bot write for me’ or, ‘I want to party and I’ll let a bot write for me.’ That choice produces a suspension or refusal of your own intelligence.”

Sophomore Jack Dorsey uses ChatGPT differently; it helps him with his creative writing and overcoming writer’s block. Occasionally, he uses it to plan Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.

“It’ll spit out a bunch of ideas, and I’ll see something that will inspire me to say, ‘Hey you know what, let’s try something along these lines.’ Then I’ll branch off into this new creative idea to write this creative thing,” Dorsey said. 

Professor of Psychology Pavel Blagov included a policy for AI tools in all his classes syllabi.  

“The policy invites students to not use these tools and to choose to do the work autonomously because this is more likely to benefit their own learning. It is more likely to reduce the chance of academic dishonesty occurring,” Blagov said. “There are at least three considerations here: Is the student learning by the assignment? Are they putting themselves at risk of committing academic dishonesty? Is the instructor able to evaluate the student’s accomplishments based on the work the student has put in?”

Davis remarked on the growing concern regarding ChatGPT’s performance with academic prompts. She remains optimistic about the future of AI like ChatGPT to serve more as a tool that sparks curiosity. 

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be capable of doing the kind of sophisticated reasoning that human beings can do,” Davis said.” I think we are always going to need people to think. What I’m seeing that ChatGPT might be useful for, I’ve described it as a glorified search engine where it takes your natural language question and puts together an answer based on everything that’s on the web.” 

Blagov talks about the benefits of learning how to use AI responsibly. He warns students that committing plagiarism beyond Whitman has more serious consequences and that learning how to effectively use AI can help students in their professional lives. 

“If a student develops this skill, this may put them at an advantage later in life after Whitman,” Blagov said. “They may be able to talk about how they’re able to use these new tools in a way that respects people’s intellectual property, and that reduces the chance of carrying out injustice because the artificial intelligence by itself is not fully just.”