After its viral launch last week, the chatbot ChatGPT was lauded online by some as a dramatic step forward for artificial intelligence and the potential future of web search.
But with such praise also came concern regarding its potential usage in academic settings. Could the chatbot, which provides coherent, quirky and conversational responses to simple language inquiries, inspire more students to cheat?
Students have been able to cheat on assignments using the internet for decades, giving rise to tools meant to check if their work was original. But the fear now is that ChatGPT could render those resources obsolete.
Already, some people online have tested out whether it's possible to have the bot complete an assignment. "holyyyy, solved my computer networks assignment using chatGPT," one person, who later clarified the assignment was old, tweeted. Others suggested that its existence could result in the death of the college essay. One technologist went as far as saying that with ChatGPT, "College as we know it will cease to exist."
Artificial intelligence company OpenAI, which developed ChatGPT, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding cheating concerns.
However, several experts who teach in the field of AI and humanities said the chatbot, while impressive, is not something they’re ready to sound the alarm about when it comes to possible widespread student cheating.
"We’re not there, but we’re also not that far away," said Andrew Piper, a professor of language, literatures and culture and a professor of AI and storytelling at McGill University. "We’re definitely not at the stage of like, out-of-the-box, it’ll write a bunch of student essays and no one will be able to tell the difference."
Piper and other experts who spoke with NBC News likened the fear around cheating and ChatGPT to concerns that arose when the calculator was invented, when people thought it would be the death of humans learning math.
Lauren Klein, an associate professor in the Departments of English and Quantitative Theory and Methods at Emory University, even compared the panic to the philosopher Plato’s fears that writing would dissolve human memory.
“There’s always been this concern that technologies will do away with what people do best, and the reality is that people have had to learn how to use these technologies to enhance what they do best,” Klein said.
There’s always been this concern that technologies will do away with what people do best, and the reality is that people have had to learn how to use these technologies to enhance what they do best.
— Lauren Klein, an associate professor at Emory University
Academic institutions will need to get creative and find ways to integrate new technologies like ChatGPT into their curriculum just like they did during the rise of the calculator, Piper noted.
In reality, AI tools like ChatGPT could actually be used to enhance education, according to Paul Fyfe, an associate professor of English at North Carolina State University.
He said there’s plenty of room for collaboration between AI and educators.
“It’s important to be talking about this right now and to bring students into the conversation," Fyfe said. "Rather than try to legislate from the get-go that this is strange and scary, therefore we need to shut it down."
And some teachers are already embracing AI programs in the classroom.
Piper, who runs .txtlab, a research laboratory for artificial intelligence and storytelling, said he’s had students analyze AI writing and found they can often tell which papers were written by a machine and which were written by a human.
As for educators who are concerned about the rise of AI, Fyfe and Piper said the technology is already used in many facets of education.
Computer-assisted writing tools, such as Grammarly or Google Doc’s Smart Compose, already exist — and have long been utilized by many students. Platforms like Grammarly and Chegg also offer plagiarism checker tools, so both students and teachers can assess if an essay has been, in part or in total, lifted from somewhere else. A spokesperson for Grammarly did not return a request for comment. A spokesperson for Chegg declined to comment.
Those who spoke with NBC News said they're not aware of any technology that detects if an AI wrote an essay, but they predict that someone will soon capitalize on building that technology.
As of right now, Piper said the best defense against AI essays is teachers getting to know their students and how they write in order to catch a discrepancy in the work they're turning in.
When an AI does reach the level of meeting all the requirements of academic assignments and if students use that technology to coast through college, Piper warned that could be a major detriment to students' education.
For now, he suggested an older technology to combat fears of students using ChatGPT to cheat.
"It will reinvigorate the love of pen and paper," he said.