Dec 29, 2022
Can I Use AI To Write An Essay?
The question on students' minds is, 'can I use AI to write an essay?'
To answer the question we must understand the nature of AI and how students can ethically use the tool.
AI, in particular, Large language models (LLMs) are becoming increasingly popular for several tasks, such as translation, blog posts and now, writing entire essays. These models have a writing process that can be used to automatically generate text, similar to the way a human would.
LLMs are based on probabilistic algorithms that try to predict the next word in a sequence given a piece of input text. Given the sheer size of LLMs such as GPT-3 (175 bn parameters) the ability to suggest relevant and convincing text is increasing.
Technology specifications aside, some tech-savvy students have been getting great results implementing AI. This tweet by Peter Yang highlights the story of a student acing exams and earning a side income.
Let's examine the challenges and opportunities that using AI for essay writing presents.
Benefits of writing an essay with AI
To answer the question 'can I use AI to write an essay?' we must explore the benefits of using AI. Writing with a tool such as Jenni AI provide many benefits to student writers, including:
Increasing the level of confidence a non-native English speaker has in their approach to vocabulary selection and grammatical style. Artificial intelligence is now able to help and enhance the writing skills of non-native English speakers.
Reducing the time spent on low-level tasks (e.g. searching for information) and allowing the student to spend more time on high-level work (i.e. developing ideas and supporting arguments).
In some fields of study such as engineering, writing is seen as a necessary evil. By allowing AI to assist in this burdensome task, students are empowered to spend more time on research and discussions with their peers and teachers.
An increased ability to synthesize existing knowledge and communicate these findings clearly and effectively. For example, Jenni AI can paraphrase passages into alternative tones of voice which gives the writer control over their paper.
After speaking to hundreds of students, we have observed that the benefits of working with a writing tool are greatest for students who struggle with English or have low self-confidence as writers. The emotional stress that comes with being tasked to write an extensive paper can be extremely taxing for students with heavy academic schedules.
Challenges of writing an essay with AI
LLMs are trained on past data sets which may not represent current trends or events.
As each probabilistic decision is made by the system, the level of abstraction or deviation from the essence of a paper increases over time. Thus, 'done for you' solutions are likely to render low-quality or even useless results.
To overcome this, at Jenni AI we have designed a co-writing experience. By removing any 'generate for me' actions, the writer is an active and integral part of every passage that is written. Co-writing is your best bet if you are looking to create high-quality content.
Students should also be aware that AI can hallucinate facts. In most cases, the 'facts' are gathered through unvetted sources on the internet so they should not be used as credible sources of information within an essay. Furthermore, hallucinations are often highly convincing to writers not competent in their area of study. This can lead to writers being misled about the authenticity of their source material and therefore compromise the quality of their essay.
Ethical concerns when writing with AI
Academic dishonesty is at the heart of the debate over the ethics of using AI to write a paper or essay. Rob Reich writing for The Guardian argues that the difficulty to 'catch' students using AI tools is worrying. Few would disagree that entering a title and asking a language model to generate an entire piece from scratch should be a violation of the academic code of ethics.
With this in mind, how can we promote a harmonious relationship between AI and the student whilst retaining academic integrity?
Treat AI as a tool, not a solution. If you’ve used an AI tool in the past for language learning, you likely have a rich understanding of how it can be helpful in certain situations and where it falls short. The writer must be able to exercise critical judgment in assessing the accuracy and quality of any passage generated by AI.
A language model is not a “magic bullet” that will spit out an essay that’s grammatically correct and flows logically from point to point. A better approach is calling on AI when the writer encounters a block.
The essay writer should view the AI as a co-writer that can overcome writer's block. Experts use AI to provide inspiration, ideas, and research related to the topic at hand when creating long-form content.
The writer must research the topic thoroughly to evaluate the insights provided by AI to provide unique perspectives to the conversation taking place within the essay.
Plagiarism is always a concern when using technology but modern models include tools that can detect plagiarism through artificial neural networks and machine learning. Whether using AI to assist in writing an essay or not, students should always run their work through a plagiarism checker to ensure original content.
AI-assisted writing is here to stay and will be leveraged by students who understand its power and also its limitations. Mainstream journalists warn of an arms race between students and Universities as they scramble to keep up with developments in this technology.
Students must remember that AI language software is simply a tool that can be used as and when appropriate. By interacting with AI, students are equipping themselves to be competitive in the future job market. New roles such as prompt engineers are being created as the need for skilled people to work within emerging technology grows.
However, striving toward a symbiotic relationship between the critical thought of a writer and the processing speed of AI is the best possible approach for the future. Who knows, a large language model could be given credit as a co-author in a future research paper!
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