An expert weighs in on the hype surrounding the AI chatbot
This year, a hot new AI bot has entered the villa. Capturing headlines and the hearts of tech investors, Miss ChatGPT has been making her presence known online and in mainstream media. Even everyone’s favourite big boy billionaire, Bill Gates, was desperate to shower the chatbot with compliments when he deemed ChatGPT as the “most important” innovation right now.
Aside from kicking up a storm online, the emergence of ChatGPT has also sent the likes of Dawn Freshwater into a scramble as they try to determine its appropriate role in academic learning, before students decide to use the chatbot to complete entire Bachelor degrees.
Although the technology was only launched last year in November, the chatbot has naturally garnered significant buzz among students, generating both praise and scepticism.
Some students told Craccum that they’ve already used the chatbot to help plan their assignments, or even complete work for their university clubs. Others said that although they had not used ChatGPT yet, they were open to adopting the chatbot to help with their academic learning.
On the flipside, several students told Craccum that they were firmly against using the AI in an academic context. Some said that they preferred to challenge themselves by completing their work independently, or were fearful of getting in trouble for academic misconduct.
“Never in a billion, trillion, zillion years, because when you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself,” commented one student.
Evidently, student opinion on ChatGPT seems pretty divided. Instead of listening to the shouts of Boomers bewailing the end of civilisation as we know it, Craccum decided to speak to Qiming Bao, a UoA researcher who studies question-answering AI, about the role of ChatGPT in academic learning and what this means for students.
So, how exactly does ChatGPT actually work? According to Qiming, when you strip it down to its basics, ChatGPT is a type of machine learning model that generates natural language responses to a given question or input, using the patterns and relationships it has learned from the colossal swaths of text data available on the internet.
“During training, ChatGPT is presented with many examples of text, where it will try to identify patterns and relationships between different words and phrases. When you input a question or statement into ChatGPT, the first thing it does is break it down into individual ‘tokens’, or words,” explained Qiming.
Once the input text has been split into individual words, each word is then converted into a numerical representation. Qiming added that this allows the chatbot to work with the text as numbers, so that it can make a prediction of what the most likely response would be based on its training data.
To produce a response that’s actually readable by humans, Qiming said that ChatGPT will then “choose the most likely response using its probability distribution of all possible responses, before converting the numerical representation of the selected response back into natural language text”, aka regular human speak.
Many students are also curious about the hype surrounding the chatbot and its capacity to disrupt the way universities teach and assess their students. Is ChatGPT actually a threat to academic learning as we know it? Qiming explains:
“ChatGPT is a tool designed to assist with learning and academic research, not to replace it. While there have been concerns about AI technology potentially replacing certain human jobs, including some academic roles, I believe that there will always be a need for human expertise, critical thinking, and creativity in the academic realm.”
Instead of seeing ChatGPT as a threat to academic learning, Qiming recommends viewing these AI language models as “powerful tools for expanding and enhancing educational opportunities”.
“With the ability to access and process vast amounts of information quickly and efficiently, AI language models can help students and researchers to explore new ideas, identify patterns and trends, and develop insights that may have been difficult or impossible to uncover otherwise.”
He commented that AI chatbots can be particularly useful in areas such as language learning, translation, and natural language processing, as they are adept at bridging communication barriers and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
“By working together, humans and AI can achieve greater levels of knowledge and understanding than either could alone.”
With the huge amount of attention and investment ChatGPT’s parent company OpenAI has received in recent months, and its uncanny ability to provide human-sounding responses, many of us wonder if it’s almost too impressive to be true? Qiming pointed out that ChatGPT has its limitations, particularly in the context of supporting academic learning.
One major shortcoming is the chatbot’s inability to provide personalised feedback. While ChatGPT is great at providing general information, Qiming explains that it falls short in tailoring its responses to the specific and unique needs of individual learners.
Essentially, its “intelligence” is restricted to the data that is available to the chatbot. Qiming explained that ChatGPT’s responses are based on the data it has been trained on. If the data is limited or outdated, then ChatGPT may not provide “the most accurate or up-to-date information.” This is particularly an issue for students seeking answers for niche topics, as ChatGPT does not have access to information on specialised or highly technical topics and fields.
The AI technology’s brains also has problems with understanding complicated questions that require multiple layers of analysis or critical thinking, including multi-step reasoning, logical equivalence, and more complex logical reasoning tasks.
Even with all of its imperfections and limitations, perhaps the most pressing question in the minds of students is whether we should use ChatGPT to support our learning or not.
Qiming shares his opinion:
“ChatGPT can provide students with useful information and insights that can support their learning. However, ChatGPT should not be the sole source of information for their education. Students should utilise a variety of resources, including textbooks, lectures, and personal interaction with teachers, peers, and experts.”
In the event that students decide to utilise ChatGPT to assist their learning, Qiming suggests using the chatbot as a research tool by asking questions, which can allow students to obtain factual background knowledge, a better understanding of a concept, or review their understanding of a particular subject by asking ChatGPT related questions.
Students can also improve their writing skills by practising writing to ChatGPT, and the chatbot can provide them with feedback and suggestions.
However, Qiming adds that it’s important to remember that ChatGPT cannot replace the role of a teacher or a tutor.
“If students are struggling with a particular concept, they should seek help from a qualified teacher or tutor. Additionally, it’s essential to validate the information provided by ChatGPT before using it as a reference in their academic work.”
Just like the emergence of the internet or the calculator, it’s highly unlikely that ChatGPT will be radically changing the way we learn anytime soon.
While using AI technology as a tool to support your studies can have its merits, there’s also nothing wrong with keeping it old school. Sometimes the most effective way to improve your understanding of a concept or topic is to just do the hard yards yourself. Also, if you’ve made it this far into your academic journey, don’t sell yourself short—we’re sure that your critical thinking and essay writing skills can trump a chatbot’s computed response anyday.