UI Chats(GPT) about future of AI

By Marta Narag, Staff Writer

Launched in November 2022, Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, or ChatGPT, has increased the potential of technology and the way students are learning.

ChatGPT is a free-to-use AI chatbot from OpenAI that allows users to ask for just about anything, from Shakespearean sonnets about coconut water to help with debugging code.

According to their OpenAI blog, the conversational format allows for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions about the original topic. It also has the ability to admit mistakes and reject inappropriate requests. 

This sort of technology would predictably raise alarm for how curriculum is structured. Departments have been meeting to unify their approach to a potential threat of academic integrity.

To Dr. Kristi McDuffie, director of rhetoric in the Department of English, ChatGPT seemed more or less inevitable.

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    “I have been trying to calm people down,” McDuffie said. “ChatGPT is one writing technology in our society’s history of writing technologies, and change is inevitable.”

    She hopes that instead of focusing on catching students cheating, departments can find a way to evolve with this technology.

    “I advocate for a response to this writing technology that does not embrace a distrust of students,” McDuffie said.

    Dave Morris, co-director of the Program of Professional Writing, had similar thoughts.

    “ChatGPT and similar tools definitely require us to rethink how we do some things,” Morris said. “But I think it’s worth mentioning that in writing instruction and in writing-focused activities across disciplines, we’ve been down this road.”

    He stated that technologies like Google, Wikipedia and even the calculator were once thought of as threats, but they are now used as starting points that students still have to build on.

    Vikram Adve, professor in Engineering, said ChatGPT offers multiple positives and negatives.

    “We are in such an early stage,” Adve said. “It’s really premature to hit the panic button. I think that the important thing that (people) need to do right now is to think hard about how to leverage the strengths of ChatGPT and put it to good use while circumventing some of the negatives.”

    Adve recognized the other similar technologies that have their own set of different strengths and weaknesses. Things like “DALL-E,” an imaging AI technology, and Microsoft’s “Bing” add another layer to the story and, in certain situations, could even be better than ChatGPT.

    Students are astonished by this new technology. Some classrooms have used it as an activity in class, and students are increasingly shocked by how much it can do.

    “I’m impressed by its capabilities,” said Shardul Parthasarathy, freshman in Engineering. “It does have its limitations, but with time, I can only see the technology improving and being used in all kinds of fields.”

    Parthasarathy believes that while ChatGPT could be a great learning tool for students, he thinks that a strong teacher is the key to a well-rounded education.

    “If an application like ChatGPT can emulate that sort of (classroom) interaction, then it’ll be a game changer for a lot of kids who may not be able to digest information when it comes to textbooks or in-class environments,” Parthasarathy said.

    Shaunak Talapatra, junior in LAS, said that while this technology still has room for improvement, there are many meritable traits.

    “The most impressive aspects of ChatGPT are its ability to remember previous conversations and filter potentially harmful comments,” Talapatra said.

    Throughout campus, conversations speculating the capacity of ChatGPT and other AI chatbox technologies have quickly emerged.

    “I am confident in the strong quality of education here at UIUC,” McDuffie said. “Factors that have always affected the quality of education — things like strong curriculum and student engagement — will continue to impact student experiences.”


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