Finding its place in society: Six months of ChatGPT
May 30, 2023
On November 30, 2022, OpenAI released ChatGPT—an artificial intelligence chatbot that broke the internet overnight. Six months after its release, ChatGPT continues to revolutionize the AI industry. The program responds to a given prompt. It can write essays, code, give suggestions, and more—the possibilities are endless. “When ChatGPT announced that anybody could create an account, I said, ‘Well, why not?’ I created a login just [to] try it, and I have to say the quality of writing is very good,” Dr. Maria Gini, a professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said.
Since ChatGPT’s release, major brands have started using it for writing, customer service, and marketing, internet privacy concerns have skyrocketed, and Italy both banned it and layed out a process for removing the ban. With concerns of the chatbot taking over jobs and teachers questioning academic integrity, ChatGPT has raised many questions as to how the future of education, AI, and job security will intertwine.
EHS adapts to AI
“I don’t think that AI is going anywhere. It’s expanding into everything. So then I think educators—and not just us—we have to think about, ‘How does that impact the way we do education, the way we teach?’” Edina High School Principal Andrew Beaton said. “There are going to be some things that are tried and true in education that will always work no matter how many robots or AIs are available, but then are there opportunities to innovate? I mean, are there innovations that could happen through AI and education that could be to the benefit of kids and teachers?”
To EHS, ChatGPT has remained a nuanced issue. Soon after its release, the EHS media center made the decision to block it on the school’s internet, enforcing ChatGPT’s 18+ user age requirement. “Typically [for schools], the first shock of, ‘There’s a machine that can do this much,’ turns to either blocking or restricting whatever that website is, until teachers can get a sense for how to have it interact with students in a way that’s positive,” Edina High School’s Digital Learning Coordinator Matthew Flugum said.
As ChatGPT gained traction, it sparked anxiety amongst educators. “For the most part, it’s putting academic integrity in jeopardy. That is the big fear,” EHS social studies teacher Claude Sigmund said. Platforms like Turnitin, which is already widely used by the school to detect human plagiarism, were quick to start detecting AI usage. “We would view a student that used AI or had someone else write their essay as the same—plagiarism,” Principal Beaton said. “I’ve seen people that I know use ChatGPT on assignments [and] just get zeros on them,” junior Tagore Ciccone said.
With academic dishonesty concerns, ChatGPT has proven to be an obstacle for the English and social studies departments. “There are certain assignments, we are noticing, [that] are phrased in such a way that students have to produce original thinking. There’s no way that it can be replicated by AI. So we’re trying to get as close to using those assignments as we can,” English teacher Haylee Guevara said. Additionally, the English department shifted towards “on-demand” essays which are written from start-to-end during class time.
“[ChatGPT] has opened up these conversations we’d rather not have. Conversations about gatekeeping and monitoring,” Guevara said. “And that’s not why any of us went into teaching. We went into teaching to help people learn and grow.” ChatGPT rapidly demoralized teachers towards educational value. “You have a lot of activities that are, go home, read this article, and answer these questions on the article,” Sigmund said. “And now you don’t know if people read the articles or answered the question, because now they’ve turned in this document, right? And so that takes away what is arguably the best part of learning, which is the discourse.”
Teachers are also worried that the use of ChatGPT in the classroom contributes to a loss in critical thinking skills. “It’s a tool students can use to actually brainstorm ideas for an essay, which is where all of the critical thinking, the real learning, happens,” Guevara said. “The part that’s most alarming for English teachers is that maybe my student will write their paper but they’re gonna have someone else do the brainstorming for them. And that’s such an important part of the process.”
Shannon Seaver, a Project Lead The Way teacher at EHS, remarked on the similarities in the effect on students between ChatGPT and Photomath. “If you use [AI] constantly, you get kind of addicted to it. You can’t think for yourself,” she said. “And so then when the test comes, you really cannot go through the process of figuring it out. Instead of doing it wrong all on your own and going back and figuring out why you did it wrong, you get addicted to it showing you the next step.”
Post-secondary impact from AI
For the past 40 years, Dr. Gini has specialized in AI and Robotics at the UMN. “At the time [of ChatGPT’s release], I was teaching a class on artificial intelligence. So I decided, you know, to talk with the students about it. One thing that I think is important is not to be afraid of new technologies, but figure out how to use them in a proper way,” Dr. Gini said. She acknowledged the concerns about ChatGPT’s use in the classroom but believes it has more to offer. “I should say, ‘What is the new tool? How can we use it?’ We know that we’re going to use it, so trying to prevent the user is not going to work,” she said.
Increasing AI in the workforce projects a big shift towards interest in computer science at a collegiate level. “It’s kind of like when [we were] sending a man to the moon… then there was a big increase in the number of students who wanted to study engineering. So again, I’m hoping that these systems will have a similar effect,” Dr. Gini said. Prior to the release, Dr. Gini worked to close the gender gap in computer science. She hopes ChatGPT expedites the process. “The number of women in computer science, in general computing, is very, very small, and has to increase. And so anytime you create excitement for something that you encourage people to think about, this is something they want to study.”
The release of ChatGPT also came with overwhelming internet speculation in the declining job security of computer science, which was ultimately dismissed by experts in the field. “What happens in [the field of] robotics is very similar. I think about the Industrial Revolution when they started producing machines,” Dr. Gini said. “People were afraid of losing jobs, but then new jobs get created…of course, there’ll be people who lose their jobs, but there will be other jobs.” However, students remain stressed about the speculation. “I had an interest in computer science before [ChatGPT] came out. I think ChatGPT [will] discourage people just because there are a lot of misconceptions over how good [it] is at writing code,” Ciccone said.
In the end the general consensus remains: computer science is safe for now. “[Computer science is] kind of like cybersecurity now, right? You got all these people that are misusing computing and [AI]. So you need people to go in there, to be able to stop them,” Seaver said. “You’re gonna need people that specialize in AI as well to manage it. So it’s going to be in huge demand to know how to run it, [and] maintain it.”
However, computer science isn’t the only field with newfound concerns overjob security. “I [did] an interview a while ago, and the guy [that] was doing the interview [said], ‘Well I think next time, I will be replaced by ChatGPT,’ and I [said] ‘I think you’re right,’” Dr. Gini said. She noted the similarities in the fear of job loss between the creation of ChatGPT with any other increase in robotics technology. “When robots are being produced, [it’s mostly the] blue-collar jobs and often dangerous jobs—they lose jobs,” Dr. Gini said. “But now [ChatGPT] started taking off white collar jobs and that’s a different story and people are concerned.” When it comes to the workforce, the first six months of ChatGPT has produced more questions than answers.
The governmental role moving forward
Ultimately, people look towards the government for next steps. On May 16, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, testified before the U.S. Congress, urging for regulations to be set on the chatbot. “The question now is, how are the regulations going to be written? Are they going to do what they’re supposed to do? Are they going to prevent development? And again, what are the proper regulations for those systems?” Dr. Gini said.
In the past six-months, ChatGPT has offered society more questions than answers, ranging from education to future of the commercial world, forcing the world to consider what the future will look like. “When you are a person designing technology, you need to think about the ethics involved while you’re designing to make sure it’s not used for bad,” Seaver said. “So you sometimes really have to think outside the box and not everybody does it when they’re designing things. I think about Einstein with the ‘E=mc2,’[which] ended up being a nuclear bomb. He didn’t want that, he did not see that coming, and he tried to intellectually stop it, but it’s the same with any of this. It can be good or bad, and unfortunately, government laws come way later, after something bad happens.”