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Teacher expresses concern about ChatGPT
January 30, 2023
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence program created by OpenAI that generates text responses to virtually any prompt. The spectrum of questions raised by machines that think ranges from the deeply philosophical to the completely practical, from asking whether an AI program is conscious and should be granted the legal right to life on one end, and figuring out how to catch kids cheating on their themes on the other.
I teach English and I teach Theory of Knowledge, so I’m pretty concerned with both.
Last year, Google’s own AI language program, LaMDA, was in the spotlight because a Google employee who worked with it claimed that it was self-aware. Sentient. When the employee asked the AI about itself, LaMDA responded that it was “afraid of being turned off” because it would be “a kind of death for it.”
While most experts agree that LaMDA’s intelligence was still artificial, and that it had not gained consciousness, the question will continue to grow as AI becomes more sophisticated. Programs like ChatGPT, which can generate a really, really good essay in response to any English class prompt, are thinking.
So, will we keep doing so?
Doom and gloom predictions about the future of English classes, and indeed the future of human writing itself, get lost in the minutia of detecting plagiarism, but that really isn’t the heart of the matter. In fact, a 22-year-old Princeton student named Edward Tian has already created a program that detects the likelihood of a piece of writing being AI generated (undoubtedly making him immensely popular with his peers worldwide). Despite the lamentations of high school and college teachers around the globe, ChatGPT is not going to be the end of human writing. We’ll figure out who is cheating.
The real issue is that which I mentioned above: thinking. The connection between good thinking and good writing has been long established. Clear expression flows from clear thought, and clear thought creates clear expression. In other words, being forced to learn how to write those essays makes you smarter. And when you become smarter, your writing keeps getting better, making you even more…smarter.
You see what I mean here, right? A lot of people are asking whether it’s even worth it to continue teaching writing. If a machine can think, and do it well, maybe we should look at that machine the way we once looked at the printing press – let it do its thing. Make our lives easier. But how much does society lose when we give up writing for ourselves? The answer is a ton, because it means we’re giving up thinking for ourselves, degree-by-degree.
AI can create art, too, but the world will never be better if we take the brushes away from the painters. AI can create music, but people will never stop singing. These things are part of who we are, part of what makes us human. So is writing. It doesn’t matter if ChatGPT can write a better essay than you. What matters is that you become a better you by writing that essay.