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ChatGPT Threatens University Education, Academics Warn

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ChatGPT and AI-generated content could drastically change education and pose a threat to academic integrity, some scholars have warned. Credit: Tulane Public Relations / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

ChatGPT, the chatbot developed by OpenAI which is making waves in the tech world, could radically affect education, and not in a good way, some academics have warned.

ChatGPT — short for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer” – allows users to ask the artificial intelligence (AI) bot any question. The chatbot will respond with written paragraphs, which are virtually indistinguishable from those written by a human.

University academics are now worried that the AI chatbot could be used by students as a shortcut to complete essays and assignments. The use of AI-generated content in higher education has also raised difficult questions about the nature of plagiarism.

ChatGPT and its impact on education

Although the tech sector is highly optimistic about the future of AI technologies, like ChatGPT, some thought leaders in higher education appear to have serious reservations.

“ChatGPT is high-tech plagiarism; it undermines education,” said Noam Chomsky, a US philosopher, linguist, author, and well-known public intellectual.

“For years there have been programs that have helped professors detect plagiarized essays,” Chomsky said. “Now it’s going to be more difficult because it’s easier to plagiarize. But that’s about the only contribution to education that I can think of.”

The 94-year-old intellectual dismissed ChatGP as “just a way of avoiding learning.” (…) “Students learn absolutely nothing from this.”

Other voices in higher education have also raised concerns. Philosophy professor James Stacey Taylor at the College of New Jersey said that he caught 14 of his 163 students using ChatGPT. Other professors have also noted a rise in the use of the AI chatbot for essays and assignments.

Higher education institutions and universities have reacted in different ways to the introduction of AI chatbots like ChatGPT. For example, academics are unsure as to whether AI-assisted work should be considered plagiarism.

Even at the high school level of education, some schools have banned the use of ChatGPT in homework assignments. In the US, public schools in New York and Seattle made the decision to block access to ChatGPT on their devices. Others, however, view AI as a new teaching tool that should be optimistically embraced.

Real problem or hype?

Not everyone is as concerned as Noam Chomsky about the threat posed to education by ChatGPT. Some academics have greeted the development of the technology as an opportunity to implement a new teaching tool, whereas others think that the quality of AI-generated content is too poor to pose a serious threat to academia.

“The quality of writing was appalling. The phrasing was awkward and it lacked complexity,” commented Rutgers University student Kai Cobbs.

“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,” Cobbs continued.

Of course, it remains to be seen how far the technology can be stretched to replace the work of a student. The future impact of ChatGPT and other AI chatbots on higher education will largely depend on how well it can perform tasks like writing essays and assignments, which students would otherwise have to perform themselves.

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