The latest threat, if you believe the hype, is ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot from Silicon Valley startup OpenAI. Released on November 30, the large language model (LLM) software has been predicted to do away with higher education (as well as journalism, code writing, and even Google, according to Gmail developer Paul Buchheit, who tweeted on December 1 that the search engine “may be only a year or two away from total disruption”). As someone deeply familiar with the crises facing my institution and others, I can say with certainty that ChatGPT is more hype than harm—and it might even offer some help.
“The key to retaining the value of a degree from your own institution is ensuring your graduates have the skills to change with any market. This means that we must tweak and adapt our curriculum at least every single year.” Those adaptations include a rigorous and ongoing survey of new technologies and services that could aid students in plagiarism and other forms of cheating, and tweaking homework and other assignments to reduce the effectiveness of those technologies. Many teachers—and anti-cheating software developers—are already doing this, and there is no reason to believe they will be stymied by ChatGPT.
OpenAI itself is working on solutions, according to TechCrunch. University of Texas, Austin computer science professor Scott Aaronson, a guest researcher at OpenAI, said the company is “studying hiding cryptographic signals, called watermarks, in ChatGPT results, so that they’ll be more easily identifiable by [anti-cheating software] companies like Turnitin.”
Data scientist Teresa Kubacka decided to run her own experiment by asking ChatGPT about a “cycloidal inverted electromagnon,” which she made up. She tweeted the results, which not only sounded plausible, but were supported by citations—which turned out to be bogus. Kubacka says the experiment left her with “an intense feeling of uncanniness: I just experienced a parallel universe of plausibly sounding, non-existing phenomena, confidently supported by citations to non-existing research. Last time I felt this way when I attended a creationist lecture.”
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