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Does AI mean the death of the college essay?

Unlike other forms of plagiarism, AI is much more difficult to detect— what does this mean for college essays?

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Artificial intelligence concept with a wire mesh grid.

Artificial intelligence concept with a wire mesh grid.

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Will artificial intelligence spell the end of the college essay?

Unlike other forms of plagiarism, AI is much more difficult to detect. According to The Atlantic, ChatGPT launched in 2020, but an updated version of it has become popular this week — with a user count of over one million.

The mechanism of the bot is simple. Type in a prompt about what you want the bot to say and then text will be typed on your screen by the bot. This can range from the humorous to the serious.

The bot is the latest in AI that has taken hold of the general public. While image AI has become popular (think DALL-E, Midjourney and the recently popular Lensa), writing AI has mostly flown under the radar. Now the ChatGPT bot is being used for memes and jokes. I asked the bot to “make jokes about hallmark movies” and it told me “Why do Hallmark movies always take place during the holidays? Because they’re too corny to be shown any other time of year.”

As fun as it is to prompt the bot to give text like this, some like Stephen Marche believe that it could mean the death of the college essay.

Writing for The Atlantic, Marche described students who have used AI to write essays. “They don’t feel like they’re cheating, because the student guidelines at their university state only that you’re not allowed to get somebody else to do your work for you. GPT-3 isn’t ‘somebody else’ — it’s a program.”

ChatGPT can produce whole essays on command.

For example, I put in the prompt “advanced essay on the history of The Great Gatsby” and within a short period of time, an entire essay surfaced on my screen.

The writing itself isn’t half-bad.

The bot began, “The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel that explores the decade and excess of the Roaring Twenties. ... The novel was published in 1925, a time when the United States was experiencing significant economic growth and cultural change. The country was in the midst of the “Jazz Age,” and the traditional values of the past were being challenged by the hedonism and materialism of the present.”

I tried again to see if quality writing as a feature, not just a bug. I prompted the AI bot to write a “college essay about whether or not God exists.”

The bot wrote, “Those who argue for the existence of God often point to the complexity and beauty of the natural world as evidence of a higher power. ... On the other hand, those who argue agains the existence of God may point to the lack of empirical evidence for a higher power.”

I wanted to see if the bot could handle more specific requests so I typed in “literary analysis about the color blue in the great gatsby.”

The bot wrote about how the color blue is associated with both Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. The bot added, “The blue of the East and West Eggs, the two sides of Long Island where the main characters live, represents the social and emotional divide between the characters. The blue of the water that separates the mainland from the island also serves as a barrier between the characters and their desires.”

On command, the bot will even provide citations.

Advances in AI might dramatically impact college. After all, if a bot can produce an essay that gets a student a passing grade and the essay is practically untraceable, then how will a professor detect plagiarism?