Will AI Make Us Go Back to Pen and Paper?


“Let’s talk about A.I., robot got more heart than I

Robot got future, I don’t”

If even SZA is artistically singing about AI, I think it’s due time that we do too. 

Robots taking over has always been portrayed as the apocalyptic end to the world. But people are arguing that reality seems to finally be upon us, after the recent roll out of Open AI’s new tool, Chat GPT. Marketed as a “research release”, the San Francisco based firm published it November 30, 2022. In the mere weeks since its inception, it has spurred countless discussions in virtually every field of how to avoid being replaced by this technology. The most interesting (and alarming) conversation I have found has been that of education. The worries are boundless, as they range from boundless cheating to teacherless classrooms. It is time to realize that although we likely won’t wake up to a “Wall-E”-like reality tomorrow, there is a threat if inaction continues. It’s time for all of us to create meaningful initiatives in higher education to keep a culture of integrous learning and innovation intact. 

For those not familiar with the chat, ChatGPT uses machine learning algorithms to create a language model that generates human-like texts. Using the entirety of the Internet as a dataset, the chat seems limitless to an untrained eye. The astounding part of the release has been not only the quantity of data processed, but the uncanny anthropomorphic responses that are generated. It works like Google in a way, but instead of leaving you with a list of websites, it compiles all of that information and gives you an answer in complete sentences. On top of that, you can manipulate the responses to include grammar mistakes, lower level vocabulary, etc. It can create haikus, poems, even songs out of a seemingly basic answer. 

So how will/does this essay writing machine affect education? Educators surround me at every corner and cross-road of my life. Long day of classes? Nothing like coming home to two parents who just taught their own classrooms full of students all day. Dinner table conversations often consist of some new cheating scandal my parents have to deal  with during their work days (they all know the lip balm trick). “Education is the key to success” is indoctrinated into me at this point. It is only recently that these discussions have turned more into disagreements as I poke the bear(s) and ask about how AI will transform education. My parents’ first response? 

Some variation of blocking, banning, or burning this apocalyptic new technology.  

Rumors of going back to pen and paper have floated around school districts. Still, I can’t imagine where that would leave IE’s infamous paperless campus. Open book exams, that IE students have often, just evolve into who can copy and paste the best. The validity of well-written essays, which can be an alternative for exams at IE, are automatically questioned, albeit one line or the whole paper robot-written. The same question can produce countless different responses, creating even more questions about how educators can combat unlimited copy-paste jobs. 

In terms of academic dishonesty, it has been a constant game of cat and mouse in recent years. But this newest development in language processing seems to be a major stop. There are many plagiarism softwares in development against ChatGPT, but they prove to be faulty at best. The strength of OpenAI’s model is that the chosen dataset is so vast, plagiarism software lacks accuracy. Conversations in tech circles have explored the possibility of “watermarking” AI- generated responses, but this also comes with many obstacles. 

As we wait for Big Tech to answer our questions about ethics, the responsibility is ours in the meantime. When I say ours, I mean those in education. I see this as the ideal impetus to finally update the long outdated education system. Higher education has a prime opportunity to pivot from meaningless memorization to applicable skills that only an astute student could produce. It is social skills that not even the smartest AI bot could try to mimic. Although the chat may surpass human intellectual capabilities, it is only relevant when humans utilize it. 

 Institutions must transition to AI integration in order to prove it has a viable future in its current state. Growing pains are natural, but it’s just as all generations before us have done. Going back to pen and paper may prevent cheating scandals in universities. Even so, once graduated, these same students will then be in the real-world work force, where the technology is seen for the most part as an ally, as opposed to an enemy. In recent years, higher education has been taking heat, from affirmative action cases to rising tuition costs. The reasoning behind attending universities has been questioned, and seemingly more so with this new technology that exceeds human intellect. Instead of running away from it, we must come to embrace it. Denying its existence will only hurt students who will be competing with others that view AI as a collaborative tool. To end the fear-mongering of all that Artificial Intelligence can upheave, the important thing to do is to learn how to work alongside it.

Featured image: Unsplash

Shannon Clancy
Shannon Clancy
I like to write about sustainability, tech, and political culture.

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