Chris Gilliard and Pete Rorabaugh
February 3, 2023
In the classroom of the future—if there still are any—it’s easy to imagine the endpoint of an arms race: an artificial intelligence that generates the day’s lessons and prompts, a student-deployed A.I. that will surreptitiously do the assignment, and finally, a third-party A.I. that will determine if any of the pupils actually did the work with their own fingers and brain. Loop complete; no humans needed. If you were to take all the hype about ChatGPT at face value, this might feel inevitable. It’s not.
But a response to the hit software demo, released by OpenAI in November to instant fanfare, is coming. You only have to look at how schools dealt with the potential externalities of newly essential tech during the pandemic to see how a similarly paranoid reaction to chatbots like ChatGPT could go—and how it shouldn’t. When schools had to shift on the fly to remote learning three years ago, there was a massive turn to what at that point was mainly enterprise software: Zoom. The rise in Zoom use was quickly followed by a panic about student cheating if they were not properly surveilled. Opportunistic education technology companies were happy to jump in and offer more student surveillance as the solution, claiming that invading students’ kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms was the only way to ensure academic integrity and the sanctity of the degrees they were working for. Indeed, this cycle also played out in white-collar work.
Now we are seeing this once again in the fervor over ChatGPT and fears about student cheating. Already teachers and instructors are worried about how the tech will be used for circumventing assignments, and companies are touting their own “artificial intelligence” tools to battle the A.I. for the soul of education.
Consider the flood of essays that would have us believe that not only college English courses but in fact the entire education system are imperiled by this technology. In separate pieces, the Atlantic proclaimed “The End of High-School English” and announced that “The College Essay Is Dead.” A Bloomberg Opinion column asserted that ChatGPT “AI will almost certainly help kill the college essay.” A recent research paper tells us that GPT-3 (a precursor to ChatGPT) passed a Wharton professor’s MBA exam.