Artificial intelligence (AI) is a computer system that is programed to carry out different tasks such as providing research articles, creating visual art based off a given prompt or even writing essays or papers about topics that are assigned by users. In the last year alone, AI has been on the rise with new programs such as ChatGPT, a language-based AI program, becoming more accessible to all people.
In an atmosphere like Northwestern’s, where papers are constantly being written and research seems as if it never stops, the prominence of AI and its uses is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
This past June, Dr. Tom Truesdell, NW’s writing across the curriculum coordinator, released an email to all NW faculty addressing concerns from professors.
In this email, Dr. Truesdell wrote, “Colleagues, I’ve heard from several of you this past month regarding generative AI (specifically ChatGPT) and your classes. Like you, I am at times overwhelmed by the disruption this latest iteration of technology is causing. Still, I am also excited about the ways in which it is challenging me to rethink what happens in my classroom.”
Like many people, Dr. Truesdell finds both hope and hinderance in the face of AI, recognizing that when used by students in the wrong way, it allows for cheating and false work to be turned in.
Dr. Kali Jo Wacker, an assistant professor of English, currently teaches several writing intensive classes for the communications department. The emphasis on learning to write and writing to learn has helped form many of Dr. Kali Jo feelings on AI. “AI isn’t going away, so it’s not a tuck-our-head-in-the-sands kind of moment,” she said. “It carries on whether we look at it or not. As a result, I think being able to use it in intentional and skeptical ways is healthy and productive.”
Taking her own advice, Dr. Kali Jo also spoke freely of the skepticism that she has towards AI. “I think like anything, AI can be used to falsify reality and be used as a shortcut for short-term gains, but with long-term losses,” Dr. Kali Jo said. “Dependency on AI to do work that we should know how to do will be detrimental in the long run.
All muscles atrophy with lack of use. If AI is used to replace skills, such as writing, then our own skills fade. I do think AI can give helpful tips and suggestions for how to improve writing, so the use of it is not bad. The trade of an independent skill to a dependent one is. Also, there’s a particular empowerment that comes from learning. I’d hate to see people allow AI to take away the learning process that leads to that.”
Dr. Chris Nonhof, an associate professor of education and English, prepares college students to lead future classrooms. He sees AI as a way to create lesson plans, but also as a threat to the classroom that all future educators should be weary of. When asked if AI writing or art could hold up to human work, Dr. Nonhof was quick to answer. “No,” he said. “ Stephen King recently wrote AI poems in the style of William Blake or William Carlos Williams – I’ve seen both – are a lot like movie money: good at first glance, not so good upon close inspection. There is human experience that computers can mimic but there is not human experience that computers can duplicate. Logic might be on par or superior with AI, but God also gave us a creative mandate. We are culture-builders. We are created in the image of a God whose artistic license knew no bounds. That both comforts me and challenges me to be a better reflector of that creative insight.”
AI is a powerful tool that is worth checking out and learning about. However, just like all other aspects of life, there are ethical and non-ethical ways to use these programs. In order to develop the minds of students it is important to remember that the code in a given program cannot replicate the intricacy of one’s mind.