A new open AI chatbot that can write essays, solve problems and answer complex questions is sending educators into a tailspin. As a parent, what does it mean for you and your kids?
When I heard about the new ChatGPT, my first thought as a parent was to question everything that my daughter learned in school. This could be one of the biggest opportunities of this century! Industry pundits may ask me to hold my horses but I am a writer and I can already hear chatter about ChatGPT in my writing and editing circles.
ChatGPT is the latest AI language model sensation that has now become mainstream, with many students and fellow professionals using it for work and study. Released in November 2022, it is an AI-powered chatbot that is trained and designed to hold natural conversations and to generate text on any subject in response to a prompt or a query. Created by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a generative large language model (LLM), which means it can answer long-form, complex questions conversationally. It is trained by AI and machine learning to actually learn what humans mean when they ask a question. ChatGPT can fix errors in code, edit essays, write poems, summarise content, create a grading rubric for an assignment, and even design an MBA syllabus.
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Burning with curiosity, a fellow parent and I decided to give ChatGPT a spin. We were amazed at what we found. Sure, the technology is not perfect but ChatGPT answered our questions quite well, wrote above-average content, came up with clever advertising tag lines for my friend’s upcoming electric bike startup, and even did a decent job of writing a short scene in the style of film director Martin Scorsese.
Already, ChatGPT is banned across all devices in public schools in New York over plagiarism complaints because students can use it to write essays and do homework. But will banning a tool like this help? Instead, we need to ask ourselves why our kids would want to cheat on their homework. Do they have no impetus to actually learn? If so, then there is something wrong with how we teach them. Besides, plagiarism and copying have been prevalent in schools and colleges.
ChatGPT isn’t without its problems. For one thing, it gives incorrect data that gets lost under layers of text that sounds elegant and articulate. Also, unlike Google search engines, ChatGPT does not cite legitimate information sources. But we cannot write off its uses or bury our heads in the sand. Ethan Mollick, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, says that the best way to use ChatGPT is to think you were “chatting with an omniscient, eager-to-please intern who sometimes lies to you.”
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So what does this mean for our kids and the way they learn? Rote learning will lose its relevance. In fact, the funniest thing I read about ChatGPT is a tweet that said most Indian parents won’t know about it because it isn’t in a textbook! Instead, our kids will have to learn to think critically and look at the big picture instead of just churning out essays or solving sums without any idea where they are going. My daughter has great ideas but she hates writing essays and they do not really teach her anything about a subject. Tools like ChatGPT will help her write her essays and allow her to focus on her strengths instead of wasting energy on piecework.
Interestingly, teachers will now become more relevant than ever. They need to facilitate our children’s explorations and teach them to constantly to question sources instead of taking information at face value. Socio-emotional and creative skills will matter more than ever, and teachers play an important part here too.
I have always believed that technology is useful if we implement it the right way. After all, all major inventions, including the first printing press, the calculator, and even the computer drew skepticism from the world at large but all of us have adapted to them.
With the imminent release of GPT-4, which can have as many as 1 trillion parameters and far more accurate responses, we cannot hide from ChatGPT but we also need to approach it with cautious enthusiasm. In the end, traits that inherently make us human, including curiosity, creativity, empathy, and critical thinking, will keep us relevant and moving forward.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai