Artificial Intelligence – when I hear that, one of the first things I think of is the movie The Terminator. I’m guessing most of us can hear Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “I’ll be back.” If you don’t know the movie, or you’re too young, Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg that is sent back in time. That cyborg is created by Skynet, which is basically a giant artificial intelligence network from the future trying to take over the world and gather a slave labor force of humans.
What’s fascinating to me is that some of the technology that drives the plot of this 1984 movie seems to be coming to life – artificial life – today. Hopefully without the efforts to take over the world and turn humans into slaves.
At the end of November, a company called OpenAI released ChatGTP to the world. If you aren’t super techy, let me tell you a bit about what that means. Let’s start with OpenAI.
OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research lab. The organization’s mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity. They conduct research on machine learning and AI and provide access to its technologies to the public through various products and services. Artificial Intelligence is built on the concept that computers can learn on their own through scouring the web, accessing resources, etc. The organization has been involved in the development of several popular AI-powered tools, such as GPT-3, a state-of-the-art language processing model. OpenAI is also involved in research on the ethical and societal implications of AI and works to promote responsible and safe AI development. Additionally, OpenAI has been active in the open-source community, releasing many of its research papers and tools to the public.
ChatGPT is one of the tools that has been developed by OpenIA. It is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that is trained to understand and generate human language. Essentially, it’s a computer program that can understand and respond to the text input in a way that mimics human communication. For those of us who have been around technology for a while, you may remember the days when your search terms had to be very specific, and utilize Boolean search terms (AND, OR, NOT, or AND NOT) to combine or exclude ideas to drill down to what you were looking for. Normal human language would rarely find you what you want. Today, search engines like Google can be much more successful in finding what you are looking for when entering searches with natural language. The work of OpenAI and other forms of artificial intelligence have helped make technology easier to use. To expand on ChatGPT, it can be used for a variety of tasks such as text generation, text completion, and language translation. ChatGPT is also used for automated customer service, language education, and more. It’s a powerful tool that can be used to create engaging content, generate personalized responses, and assist in a wide range of language-related tasks.
In my Twitter feed recently, there have been a lot of conversations about the positives as well as potential issues of students having access to ChatGPT. When I was playing around with ChatGPT the first time, I asked it to write a 5-paragraph essay on a book that one of my kids was reading. It’s a book that I’ve read too, so I felt confident that I’d know if it was on the right track. Here’s the thing, the response, was pretty good. Probably not something that would be assessed as a perfect paper – there were some grammar issues and a couple of confusing groupings of words. But if handed in by an upper elementary or middle school student, I wouldn’t be any the wiser.
Technology like this has raised a fundamental question – should we block OpenAI and ChatGPT? Several school districts have already made that choice. But I’d like to remind you that there was a point when YouTube was blocked in many schools. These days it’s used in classrooms all over the world as a learning tool.
About a week ago, New York City Public Schools announced that they would be blocking OpenAI, and in particular ChatGPT on all of their networks and devices. They fear that it does not build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I’m not sure I completely agree.
Here’s what I’ve found while playing around with ChatGPT. There are some things it does well. The other day I asked it to create a playlist for my workout based on a song I like. It was good, surprisingly good. Then I asked it to create a 45-minute HIIT workout that only used bodyweight exercises. It was decent – I would make some changes if I were following the workout, but it would definitely get me sweaty. Then I asked it to adjust the workout to use a kettlebell and adjustable dumbbells – both of which I have in my basement gym. Again, it was pretty good.
Just for fun, I asked ChatGPT to tell me the story of The Three Little Pigs as told by Michael Scott from the office. In my head, I could hear the correct voice, just the right amount of funny, and just in case you’re wondering, to Michael, the moral of the story is to just go ahead and build your house out of bricks so that you don’t have to worry about a big bad wolf.
On Twitter, I’ve seen other funny exchanges – create a poem in the style of a Shakespearean Sonnet about something in modern day pop culture. It will write computer code for you. And there’s so much more. ChatGPT also has some limitations that they openly share on the homepage. It occasionally generates incorrect information. There have been some issues of harmful instructions and biased content. And it has limited knowledge of any events after 2021.
But for our students, if they learned how to utilize ChatGPT to help with research, AI can help build a solid outline of thoughts. They have to feed the information in, and then think about what they get out. Does it work for their needs? Do they need to edit it in some way? These are critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I don’t think that blocking a resource is always the best solution. Students will have access to artificial intelligence outside of school. They may have access to them as part of work in the future. Part of our job as educators is to prepare our students for their future world, not our current world. It’s something I want to process a bit more.
Originally when I set out to write this post, I intended to get to how we might use ChatGPT in our classrooms, but this post is getting a little long. So, for now, I’ll leave this as an intro to what OpenAI and ChatGPT are and some initial thoughts on the impact of our world and classrooms. Next week, I’m going to delve into some ways that we as educators might be able to utilize this technology in the classroom to support learning. In the coming week, take a few minutes to try logging into ChatGPT (just a forewarning – sometimes you have to wait a bit for the servers to be available, and depending on where you are). See what you can find – ask it questions about topics that are meaningful to you. Can it create a lesson plan for you? Can it give you a new strategy to try with one of your students? Or can it help you create something at home – a recipe for a new type of food; a workout; or a suggestion of what book you should read next based on your current read. If you try it out, share with us in the comments below what you figured out.