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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: AI can’t write your essays for you

DTH Photo Illustration. A student writes a paper in the Davis Library on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

You have 50 minutes left until 11:59 p.m. and you haven’t even started a first draft of an essay due at midnight. It counts for 25 percent of your grade. No late credit is offered. There is no hope.

Or so you may think. 

Luckily for students everywhere, with ChatGPT, a chatbot launched by OpenAI capable of producing detailed and articulate answers, all you have to do is input your essay prompt and you'll have an answer.

“Write me a 1,000-word paper comparing and contrasting Christine de Pisan with Margery Kempe.” The perfect solution, right? Wrong.

In the specific case of student essays, an opinion or thesis has to be defended with logical analysis and must cross-reference various sources. This part of the research process can be replicated by artificial intelligence, but forming an opinion is the job of the user.

Processing lots of material and understanding the context of that information is the first step, followed by forming an opinion of your own. That is where AI falls short, however, and why using AI is irrelevant in situations such as essay writing.

When you ask ChatGPT what it's limitation are, one response you might get is as follows:

"ChatGPT is a machine learning model and it is not equivalent to authentic human expression because it lacks the ability to understand the context and meaning behind the words, as well as the capacity to reason, make decisions, and understand emotions. It also doesn't have the capacity to experience emotions, physical sensations or personal experiences. It can not understand sarcasm, idioms or any nuances of human language and it can not come up with new ideas or concepts. It simply can generate text based on the patterns it has learned from the dataset it was trained on."

ChatGPT merely replicates patterns of information, thought and analysis that already exist. Sure, the average college student is probably not presenting radically groundbreaking commentary in their essays, but they are also not expected to simply regurgitate information coming from credible sources. Critical thinking must be employed and that process requires the capacity to reason, make decisions and understand emotions — all things ChatGPT admits to not being able to do.

Of even greater importance, however, is the role of writing and analysis in work beyond student essays. One could assume that ChatGPT could one day progress to the point of being able to write song lyrics, novels, screenplays or press releases. These powerful forms of human expression in both creative and non-creative fields serve to challenge the status quo — something ChatGPT cannot do. 

What is a story people have never heard before? What is a scene people have never seen before? What is an emotion people have never felt before? The pursuit of answers to these questions is what creates groundbreaking works of art. If a text-based editor is creating this art based off of systems of knowledge that have already been established, those questions may never be answered.

The world may remain the way it always has been and any challenge towards the norm will be stifled in favor of AI which does not demand salary for its work. In that sense, writing and expression serves as rebellion, whereas AI serves as a protective cover for the world’s corporations and those in power. 

And so, although it may be inconvenient, this rebellion starts with writing your essay by yourself. Challenge yourself to come up with your own opinion. Who knows? It could be something new, which AI can never claim to create.


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