While many Americans were high on alcohol on New Year’s Day, 22-year-old Edward Tian was frantically working on a new anti-abuse app called a powerful new AI tool called ChatGPT.
Given the hype that has been generated, there is a good chance that you have heard of ChatGPT. It is an interactive chatbot powered by machine learning. Technology has basically devoured the entire Internet, and reading humanity’s collective actions and learning patterns into language can be recreated. All you have to do is give it a prompt, and ChatGPT can do an infinite variety of things: write a story in a certain style, answer a question, explain a concept, compose an email – write a college essay – and it will spit out coherent text that looks like it was written by a human in seconds.
The technology is fascinating – and terrifying at the same time.
“I think we’re at an inflection point,” Edward says. “This technology is incredible. I think it’s the future. But, at the same time, it’s like we’re opening a Pandora’s Box. And we need safeguards to adopt it responsibly.”
Edward is a senior at Princeton University, majoring in computer science and journalism. Before his recent entry into the spotlight, Edward’s biggest plans were to graduate from college and have his wisdom teeth extracted. He is now taking calls from venture capital firms, education leaders, and the global media.
For the past two years, Edward has been studying an artificial intelligence system called GPT-3, a precursor to ChatGPT that was less user-friendly and largely inaccessible to the general public because it was behind a paywall. As part of his fall semester studies, Edward researched how an AI system detects typed text while working at the Natural Language Processing Lab at Princeton.
Then, as the semester drew to a close, OpenAI, the company behind GPT-3 and other AI tools, released ChatGPT to the public for free. For the millions of people around the world who have used it since then, interacting with the technology has been like glimpsing into the future; A future that not so long ago would have seemed like science fiction.
Despite his AI studies, Edward, like the rest of us, was awestruck by the power of ChatGPT. He and his friends used it to write poems and raps about each other. “It was like, ‘Wow, these results are so good,'” Edward says. It seemed like everyone on campus was talking about how great this new technology was. Sure, the text it generated is very formulaic and not always accurate. But it also feels like The beginning of a revolution.
For many users of the new technology, admiration quickly turned into alarm. How many jobs will this kill? Will this empower nefarious actors and further corrupt our public discourse? How will this disrupt our education system? What is the point of learning to write essays in school when artificial intelligence – which is expected to improve greatly in the near future – can do it for us?
Stephen Markey, writes Atlantic Ocean Last month, he declared, “The college essay is dead.” ChatGPT paints the AI revolution as part of an existential crisis for the humanities. “The essay, particularly the undergraduate essay, has been a center of humanistic education for generations,” Markey wrote. “This is how we teach children how to research, think and write. This whole tradition is about to collapse from the ground up.”
Edward vs. the machine
After the fall semester ended, Edward flew home to Toronto for the holidays. He hangs out with his family. He watched Netflix. But he could not get rid of thoughts about the huge challenges facing humanity due to the rapid development of artificial intelligence.
Then an idea occurred to him. What if he applied what he learned in school over the past two years to help the audience determine if a machine had written something?
Edward already had the know-how and even the software on his laptop to create such a program. Ironically, this program, called GitHub Co-Pilot, is powered by GPT-3. With his help, Edward was able to create a new app in three days. It is a testament to the power of this technology in making us more productive.
On January 2nd, Edward launched his app. Name it GPTZero. It basically uses ChatGPT against itself, checking if there is “zero or high involvement” of the AI system in generating a given script.
When Edward went to bed that night, he wasn’t expecting much to apply. “When I put this out there, I thought maybe maybe try a few dozen people at best,” Edward says. “I didn’t expect what happened.”
When Edward woke up, his phone went off. He’d seen countless texts and direct messages from journalists, principals, teachers, you name it, from as far away as France and Switzerland. His app, hosted by a free platform, became so popular that it crashed. Enthusiastic about his app’s popularity and purpose, the hosting platform has since given Edward the resources to expand the app’s services to a large audience.
Fight marking everything
Edward says he had two primary motivations for creating GPTZero. The first is transparency. “Humans deserve to know when a human is writing something or when a machine is writing it,” he says.
Along these lines, one obvious application of GPTZero is to help teachers identify if their students are plagiarizing their articles from ChatGPT. “Educators from all over the world are worried about it,” Edward says.
However, some in the tech world aren’t quite sold that copying and pasting ChatGPT broadcasts is problematic. “’ChatGPT’ spoofing is not a complete problem,” Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist and internet pioneer, tweeted earlier this month. “If you can’t write a machine, what do you write?”
Elon Musk, one of the original founders of OpenAI, recently tweeted, “It’s a new world. Bye homework!” In response to reports that schools were introducing strict new measures against plagiarism in ChatGPT.
Of course, these are just comic tweets. But it really seems like we’ve entered a new world where we’re forced to re-evaluate our education system and even the value of – or at least the method of – teaching children how to write.
Many of us have lost our will — even our ability — to remember phone numbers when cell phones came around. By outsourcing saving to a machine, we have come to rely on it to connect with our friends and family. It was for the best, you might say, and it freed our minds to focus on other things. Or you might consider it a kind of regression of development, a weakening of our mental faculties. Don’t lose your cell phone!
Humanity now faces the prospect of greater dependence on machines. We may be heading towards a world in which more people lose their ability to write well. It is a world in which all of our written communication may become like a Hallmark card, written without our creativity, personality, thoughts, emotions, or idiosyncrasies. Name it all.
But at least when we give people Hallmark cards, people know we’re giving them Hallmark cards. If you use ChatGPT to write a congratulation or apology to your friend, he may not even know it was written by a machine.
Which brings us to the other purpose Edward envisions for its application: to identify and stimulate originality in human writing. “We lose that individuality if we stop teaching writing in schools,” says Edward. “Human typing can be very beautiful, and there are aspects of it that computers should never have picked on. And it seems like this might be in jeopardy if everyone was using ChatGPT to write.”
Edward is not a Luddite. It’s not trying to stop AI in its tracks. He believes this is impossible, and says he opposes blanket bans against the use of ChatGPT, such as the one recently announced by New York City public schools. He thinks students will use technology anyway. It is important, he says, that they are able to learn how to use it. They must be aware of the technological changes that are sweeping our world. “It doesn’t make sense to go into this future blindly,” he says. “Instead, you need to build collateral to enter that future.”
As for his plans after college, Edward says, the excitement — and apparent demand — for his new app convinced him he should focus on making it a better, more accurate product. “If you’re a teacher or educator, our team — which is now me and my best friend from college, who just joined yesterday — would love to talk to you,” Edward says.
So, if you come across some text that you suspect was typed by a machine, maybe run it through Edward’s new app? You can find it at GPTZero.me.