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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

AI will do the writing -- and the thinking -- for students

Clear writing requires clear thinking. If bots do the writing, will students still do the thinking?

New software is very sophisticated, writes John Symons, who teaches writing-intensive philosophy courses, on Return. He worries that artificial intelligence will "make us less intelligent."

"Learning to write has helped generations of students to improve their ability to think," he writes. Grades in humanities classes depend heavily on the quality of written work.

Jasper AI is an AI writing bot, and Symons expects professors to see bot-written essays this fall.

I tried giving some of these systems standard topics that one might assign in an introductory ethics course and the results were similar to the kind of work that I would expect from first-year college students. . . . What it said about Kant’s categorical imperative or Mill’s utilitarianism, for example, was accurate. And a discussion of weaknesses in Rawlsian liberalism generated by GPT-3 was stunningly good.

"After a little editing, GPT-3 produced a copy that would receive at least a B+ in one of our large introductory ethics lecture courses," Symons writes.

He tried "quirky, idiosyncratic assignments." The system produced work that might get a C+ or B-.

A plagiarism detector showed no issues.

In short, writes Symons, professors will not be able to center humanities courses on research and writing.

Should we concentrate on handwritten in-class assignments? Should we design more sophisticated writing projects? Multiple drafts?
. . . Perhaps these tools will simply realign our attitudes to writing in the same way that calculators changed the way we think about mathematics. . . . Perhaps the ability to compose a coherent paragraph from grammatical sentences will also fade into the background as our concerns with writing aspire to more elevated and rarer skills. Perhaps there will be new ways to cultivate our students’ capacity to engage in the kinds of sophisticated reasoning that writing has made possible.

He is not optimistic.

I wonder what percentage of college students are there to learn, not just to qualify for a better job?

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