If I told you there was a free, new chat-based technology online that’s called ChatGPT and that the “GPT” stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer,” would you have any idea what I was talking about? Yeah, me either! You might even question why you should care, but believe me, we should all care about this new online tech.
As an educator, I’m against fear-mongering because fear simply doesn’t serve us well. However, I am in favor of learning about anything new so that we can all make our own, informed decisions about life. So, that’s my purpose here—supplying information for you to do with what you please. I must warn you, though, you’ll be getting my two cents as well.
Let’s dive in. ChatGPT was launched in late 2022 as a prototype by the San Francisco-based company Open AI with record-breaking buy-in from the public. Netflix, Facebook, and Spotify didn’t even enjoy the kind of public use the ChatGPT prototype has enjoyed in such a short time. Why not? It’s free, web-based, and simple to use! Why not jump on board? Well, before you decide whether or not this is a wagon you want to be on, let’s look at the platform and what type of wheels you may get run over with if you jump on and then decide to jump off.
I first learned about ChatGPT from colleagues that passed a Bill of Rights Institute lesson around via email with the simple questions, “Have you heard about this?” and “What do you think?” I honestly didn’t know what to think. I’d never heard of it, so I began to research. I read the lesson and accompanying article, got another article a couple weeks later from another friend outside the school system, and searched for a few more on my own.
One article I found rather enlightening was from a writer for USA TODAY, Jennifer Jolly. She actually got on ChatGPT, which is as simple to use as registering for a free account, and asked it what it was. The response she got was this, “ChatGPT is a computer program that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and respond to natural language text, just like a human would. It can answer questions, write sentences, and even have a conversation with you. It’s like having your own personal robot that can understand and talk to you!” (Jolly) Isn’t that exciting? In addition, Microsoft has decided to invest in Open AI. Sources say it’s a multi-year deal worth billions. Still excited?
I haven’t even told you all it can do quite yet. It can craft full essays on-command based on the directives you type into it. It can author songs, poems, essays, political arguments, and subject-based lessons/stories that are far more interesting than a lecture, all from its ability to collect information from internet sources as recent as 2021. It does all the work for you and even includes human-quality writing voice. I mean, what could be better? All of this information at your fingertips, and you never even have to think past what topic, perspective, and results you want! Wait, it gets even better! When Jolly asked the program how we’ll utilize it in the next year or two, the program responded with examples in healthcare and education. This quote from the bot got my attention the most when talking about content creation, “human-like text, audio, creative writing, news articles, video scripts, and more.” (Jolly) I’ll let that statement speak for itself.
Now, let’s look at a few areas of concern. ChatGPT was trained on internet information that’s two years old already and doesn’t yet have the ability to discern fact from fiction nor credible sources from non-credible ones. Another article I read said that it even appears to be liberal-leaning in the voice that it uses as its default; although, you can adjust the voice if you take the time to read the output and modify your query. Another concerning factor according to an article from Entrepreneur.com is that the program creates the text it has assigned to produce by using “neural network data.” Where do you think the process to achieve this was derived from? Just something to ponder.
Supporters of the program feel that it’s the next necessary step in technological information evolution that will undoubtedly have some growing pains while it’s been developed. They argue that it provides an extra, lightning-fast resource for free to level the information playing field for all, no matter the socio-economic status of the user. Those for the program also tout improvements in grammar, writing, and teacher workload since the program can generate text information and assessments in real-time. The automation of grading is even on the list of pros from those in favor. For students, the advantages listed include help with homework, writing skills, feedback on their work, and vast resources for research.
Opponents of the new platform argue that the accuracy of the information is questionable at best because the program pulls from the internet at large with no discretion over credible versus non-credible sources. Students and humans in general will fail to build/maintain critical-thinking skills and research skills since answers will only be a keystroke away. The data that ChatGPT is trained on could be biased; if so, then the mechanism’s output will also be biased. Another drawback will be that original thought will be out the window, and it will be more difficult to tell if work is plagiarized—ultimately, changing what may be considered plagiarism. This technology is ahead of the plagiarism checker programs and will alter how they function if they can catch up. The bot can also misinterpret context that will cause faulty work results.
My two cents: The more I research, the more titles come to mind—1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 just to name a few—all about dystopian technological/political takeovers. My concerns as a teacher trying to teach the importance of unique, original thought along with work ethic and research strategies pale in comparison to my main fear, though. I hate to say the word “fear,” but I do fear it. Who exactly is programming this bot? Who is creating the information it utilizes in its output? Who will know when the informational output begins to change? Who will know if the information is accurate? How will the definitions of truth, bias, and plagiarism be altered as this develops? Who will care? How far are we from having our history, present, and future rewritten by those in power who want to remain so? I keep thinking of something that dad (and so many others) used to say, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll be likely to fall for just about anything.” If we get to the point that we no longer know what we stand for, what exactly will we fall for, and how fast?