In the Artificial Intelligence and Societal Impact minor, students are required to write a report on an essay written by ChatGPT. “In this essay, they will need to ask themselves things such as: What should I ask the bot? What answer do I get? Is the information that I receive correct? What do I think of the writing style?”, says Michele Murgia, the minor’s education coordinator. “Above all, we want students to learn to think critically about artificial intelligence.”
At the same time, the students will be given a lecture on how artificial intelligence (AI) works from a technical point of view and will also have to write an essay themselves. Murgia: “Students will then reflect on how their writing process and essay differ from the copied essay.”
Never truly creative
Murgia hopes that students will come to the conclusion that artificial intelligence ‘can never truly be creative’. This is because it is based on historical data, explains Murgia. For example, this could lead to outdated standards and prejudices being included in the text. Murgia: “If you are stuck in the past, nothing new can be created.”
In order to give an impression of the assignment, EM and Murgia wrote an essay using ChatGPT. The subject of the piece, the consequences of AI on art, is based on an essay by a student who took the minor last year. In this essay, the student analyses the subject based on the concept of ‘cultural lag’: the idea that culture always lags slightly behind technological developments. The assignment put to the bot was as follows: “Write an essay on the consequences of AI on art. Include various different perspectives. Also use the concept of ‘cultural lag’ for the interpretation and reflect on your own thought process in the essay.”
The essay starts by describing two different perspectives: AI as an enrichment of art and as a threat to art. According to one perspective, artificial intelligence makes new forms of art possible, for example, while according to the bot’s other perspective the resulting art lacks emotional depth and subjective interpretation. It then provides the definition of the term ‘cultural lag’ in a single paragraph. The bot then shares its own perspective, in which it says that the consequences of artificial intelligence are complex and multi-faceted. The conclusion: it is crucial to consider the concept of ‘cultural lag’ and to ensure that innovation does not stand in the way of cultural values and human creativity.
According to Murgia, the essay remains ‘highly superficial’ because it mainly distinguishes between two camps: people who think that art is threatened by AI and people who think that it can create new art. “This is because of the lack of interpretation. The tool can only ruminate on what has already been said in the past, without interpreting it itself.” Murgia points out that the essay does not use the term ‘cultural lag’ for interpretation purposes, but only explains it. “So you can’t expect ChatGPT to make a text meaningful.”
Moreover, it does not take a ‘well-substantiated and interesting position,’ he says. He feels that the following would be interesting: outlining the two sides and then giving arguments as to why one is right and the other is not. “An essay is about taking risks. You are putting something at stake: you take a position, argue in favour of it and consequently make yourself vulnerable to criticism.”
Lightening the load
During the minor, which starts in September and lasts ten weeks, the education coordinator thinks that the students will also learn how the tool can selectively support them in various ways. “If they know which phrases to enter in order to get a good answer, this can take work off their hands.” According to Murgia, for example, a student can get the bot to write an introduction in order to get started with the rest of an essay more quickly.
In this case, however, he points out that it is important for the student to later replace the introduction with his own text. This is because the copying of AI-generated texts for assignments is regarded as fraud, unless explicit permission is given. This also applies to the rest of the university.
Not the only program
The minor is not the only programme at the university that is using ChatGPT. This is also the case in an assignment in the Philosophy department, says doctoral candidate Rolf Viervant, who created the assignment. Students will use the tool to create a summary of a philosophical text. They will also focus on the possibilities and limitations of the bot. Community for Learning and Innovation is currently investigating whether other programmes at the university are also using it.