Living in the Future With AI

New technologies complicate academics and more at Parker


Photo credit: Brooke Marsico

As a society, we are constantly growing and changing. One of the major changes in the past few years—and now in more recent months— has been the growth and development of Artificial Intelligence. Although we might not be familiar with things shown in the Disney movie, ‘Wall-E’, like flying cars or walking garbage robots, we have become accustomed to programs like Quillbot, Dall-E, and the most common website, ChatGPT. 

This is a development that has rapidly changed in past months. Presently, 1.16 billion people are using ChatGPT. In March 2023, there were one billion users. These figures showed a rise of about 55% from February 2023 and March 2023. That is a significant increase in users over just the past month. But is this new innovation helping or hurting our society? Does it improve the quality of daily life by completing ordinary or difficult tasks more effectively than we can? Or is it taking away our natural creativity? Are we using our resources responsibly or are we abusing them?

With the reliance on the software, we have to wonder how reliable the answers are that the AI gives. According to Professor of English Megan Quigley at Villanova University, AI is not as accurate as many people think. “The big problem with these chatbots is they are not synthesizing information like you would think a computer would do. Instead they are actually predicting what the next word will be based on this huge data trove.” Quigley explained how chatbots sometimes “hallucinate” and predict the entirely wrong word, sometimes even giving bluntly wrong statements. “Chat GPT isn’t actually thinking yet, it’s just predicting.”

Quigley gave some strong advice, which Parker students might consider. “We can’t be depending on chatbots to be right,” she said, “when we know they ‘hallucinate’ and make errors.” Quigley qualified the word “hallucinate,” which she said might not be the exactly right word, since it implies chatbots are sentient. She explained how Chat GPT still lacks what it means to have a “voice” and a strong opinion, the foundation of which writing is built upon.

“AI is fascinating, powerful, unsettling, and we’re just beginning to grapple with the implications of its capabilities,” Upper School history teacher Dan Greenstone said. “Well, I tried to get out in front of ChatGPT before it became a large problem. I think I was aware of it before most of my students, and I have changed some of the way I assess students because of it.” Many teachers in the Upper School have changed their curriculum because of AI. There are more in-class essays and writing activities instead of the research papers as homework. Greenstone has been one of those teachers. “I have used more assignments that I think would be harder to use an AI to assist you.” These assignments include actual AI written essays that students have to correct and expand on. This takes away the use of ChatGPT because it was already used. 

Greenstone also explained how, “One of the skills we’re all going to have to learn is how to write good prompts for it. It really does respond differently depending on what you ask it.” If we know the answer we’re looking for, we can all use ChatGPT to our benefit. But that inevitably takes out the writing, learning, and creativity skills teachers are looking for in students’ work. 

In Greenstone’s experience, “ChatGPT has a very consistent writing style. It’s very easy for me to spot the difference between a ninth grader’s writing and ChatGPT. Having said that, you can customize how it writes. I know that there are online detectors, but they don’t really work.” Greenstone concluded that, “I think AI is both helping and hurting. I mean, there will be whole professions just wiped out from AI, but there will be new professions that we don’t even have yet. However, I will say that there are negative consequences of it. I’m very worried about its effect on our political system.” 

Recently, there have been viral images and posts about a reported explosion at the Pentagon. A fake claim of an explosion at the Pentagon emerged on Twitter along with what appeared to be an AI-generated image which caused the stock market to briefly decline. Although this was a large hoax, and it blew over in a couple of days, it is terrifying how facile AI has become. Coverage of its brief stunt by big news outlets caused an economic drop and tested our confidence in the media. We might be jeopardizing ourselves by being reliant on news headlines on Twitter feeds. Humans are gullible, and we will be at risk if we listen to the political propaganda made by AI. If Michel Jackson’s voice can be recreated by syllables strung together from a computer, then anything can be used to spread animosity and fake news. 

English teacher Matt Laufer doesn’t think that the AI software is as damaging as everyone thinks. “I’m not so sure everything has changed, radically or fundamentally,” Laufer said in an interview. “Cheating has always been possible. I like to think that Chat GPT’s impacts won’t be seismic.”

“High school English teachers, college English teachers, writing teachers of all kinds around the country have responded in every imaginable way,” said Laufer. He explained that responses to the software at Parker have largely been specific to each teacher. “They have ranged from moving aggressively from finding software that can detect it and to punishing it, to embracing it,” said Laufer. 

Parker teachers have to deal with the effects of Chat GPT as it turns up in submitted work. Behind the scenes, students see just how much Chat GPT is actually used. AI was created in good faith. We were given a tool to use as a resource and not something to exploit. Students should be careful if  they use ChatGPT in a setting where it is not allowed. It is considered a form of cheating and can be reprimanded with an infraction. Do your own work. Be creative because since ChatGPT will never be human, its response will always lack character, ingenuity, and originality. That is the only thing we will ever have over AI.