The bold headline (Jan.24, 2023) in the L.A. Times reads: “Microsoft invests $10 billion in ChatGP maker OpenAI.” I had to read it twice to let it sink in, before I read the secondary nonbold headline: “With latest funding, the software giant will gain access to popular, advanced artificial intelligence systems.” Only eight days before this on Jan.16, 2023, The New York Times’s technology reporter, Kalley Huang’s article: “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach.” Or, to put it another way: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” And after reading these two articles, I am thinking about buying a one-way ticket to “Munchkinland!” Only three days later (Jan.27, 2023), another bold headline in the L.A. Times business section read: “AI writing bot is a plagiarist and a dummy.” This article focuses on the technology news site CNET, which has been using an A.I. engine to write articles for its CNET Money personal finance page. Apparently, as the story goes, someone did some fact checking on these bot-written stories only to find glaring errors and rampant plagiarism, sometimes from its own sister site CNET! And as if this were not enough to get my knickers in a twist, I recently had some “dealings” with an online company concerning my “subscription” for a recurring order and, after a few e-mails back and forth, I got this nagging suspicion that I was really communicating with A.I. bots, unfortunately missing the I! “Toto, Toto, where are you?”
As a former educator (university and high school), I am no stranger to students’ machinations to submit work that is not entirely their own. I remember one university student handing in a paper that was written for a different course (but with similar content), and I probably would have not clued into the fact that the paper was already submitted once, which is a big no-no at any university, except that the student had neglected to change the title page with the other course name and number on it. Gee, I wonder why the word “dummy” from the second headline comes to mind! The N.Y. Times article goes on to talk about how professors across the country are “redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assignments in lieu of typed ones.” I’m sure Microsoft will be happy about that! And, come to think of it, will handwritten assignments really work? Right after reading this plan, my mind went into “student-mode” figuring I can still get the A.I. to write my papers, and then just copy what I receive into handwriting. I’m thinking that these professors might need to go back to school! Later in the article, Huang writes: “Universities are also aiming to educate students about new A.I. tools. The University at Buffalo New York and Furman University in Greenville, S.C., said they planned to embed a discussion of A.I. Tools into required courses that teach entering or freshman students about concepts such as academic integrity.” Yeah, that should do the trick. Because there is so much “integrity” going on in the world right now!
When I was teaching at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia), I wrote an opinion piece for a faculty publication, “Simon Fraser News,” titled: “A band-aid solution,” with the sub headline reading: “There’s a danger that universities may rely too much on technology to solve their problems.” This was written exactly 27 years ago! This was my reaction to the “cyber-classroom,” that according to the “experts” would enhance current teaching tools. I was already skeptical about this, but when I read that the focus of this so-called telelearning will be the development of “customized and advanced instructional methods,” and that interaction will now be “active, rather than passive…” Well, that’s when I lost it. I do realize that there are problems with the education system as it is – standing at the front of a lecture theatre facing 200-plus less-than-enthusiastic students is not the ideal learning environment. But “passive” interaction? Give me a break! It would appear that not much has changed in almost 30 years. One commentator on the idea of the cyber-classroom had this to say: “They’re [universities] trying to meet 21st-century problems with 16th-century philosophy, and working in in a 18th-centruy organization… If they could just get their centuries together, they might solve their problems.” All I can add to this is: “Amen.” Perhaps we all need to be keeping our “eyes” open!
On that note, I want to leave you with this little gem. You may or may not be familiar with Tom Lehrer, the now 94 year-old mathematician, who had a side gig of performing hilarious, satirical songs, which he wrote and sang accompanying himself on the piano. The one below, “Lobachevsky,” was released on his first recorded album in 1953. The chorus goes like this: “Plagiarize/Let no one else’s work evade your eyes/Remember why the good Lord made your eyes/So don’t shade your eyes/But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize//Only be sure always to call it please ‘research.’”
Los Angeles 2023