“Cheating is a crime of opportunity”: A philosopher's view of ChatGPT


Artificial Intelligence is a term often thrown around in mainstream media. Nowadays, everyone thinks they understand artificial intelligence, but do we know what it does? If we simmer this term down, you’ll find that we are left with a kind of philosophical residue. Unlocking and understanding artificial intelligence is investigating the remnants and assessing what AI is at its core. We spoke to Dr. Antony Aumann, the Professor of Philosophy at Northern Michigan University, about the impact of artificial intelligence on academia. We at Cybernews Academy asked Antony our questions and received phenomenal answers about AI in academia.

The first professor to combat ChatGPT?

Antony left quite an impression on the AI community as he was one of the first professors to catch his students using artificial intelligence to complete an exam. He had to deal with these situations as early as December 2022. Antony commented on the state of his discipline as he discussed certain students' relationships with AI. He said: "Most of my classes are general education classes, so very few of them are just there because they want to study Philosophy, and those are exactly the kind of classes where students want to find ways of not doing the work." Academia appears to be the perfect battlefield to test these new technologies—a space where something so efficient can write your papers in moments. However, is it fair, is it right? "I always think that cheating is a crime of opportunity," a statement announced by Antony during our interview. Interesting, isn't it? Cheating is not only malpractice but a crime of something as abstract as opportunity.

Once expensive, now available to all

Antony told Cybernews Academy of the inherent nature of cheating in academia, "There have always been cheaters in my classes, people who would pay somebody else to write a paper. But it used to be a pain in the neck and expensive." He outlined that cheating was once more expensive and challenging to outsource as "you have to find someone who knew the topic that the professor was asking about or pay someone to write about specifically that." If you didn't want to complete your assignments, sourcing and paying for these "services" seemed more taxing than writing about the topic. "But that's what's crazy about ChatGPT," he exclaimed. "Now, anybody can do it for free. They just type in the prompt and get it back. So the levels of plagiarism have gone way up because the easiness of cheating has become so much greater." The ease of plagiarism has increased with ChatGPT's rise in popularity. Antony commented, "Some ways of using ChatGBT can be regarded as cheating." For example, "if the student uses it in a kind of foolish way where they just ask, tell it the prompt, and cut and paste the answer." The university professor actually told us a story where he encountered plagiarism at the hands of a student who had used ChatGPT to complete a paper.

Caught in the act

During our interview, Antony shared a shocking story of plagiarism. But there's a twist: the professor used artificial intelligence to his advantage. He told us that he suspected one of his students of cheating, so he “submitted the essay to ChatGPT, and said, did you write and chatbot comes back and says, there's a 99.9% chance that I wrote it.” His response was not only ingenious but a perfect example of the versatile nature of the program. The professor crafted an email to the student that supposedly used ChatGPT to write their paper. Then Antony did something unimaginable. He sent them an email written by ChatGPT. Once the letter was received, Antony proceeded to give "the report to the student, and he said, what's going on with this? And, of course, the student admitted it. So what do you do? Do you flunk them? You report them?" Well, Antony did this: "I just had the student rewrite the paper, and I said this time, don't be naughty." The lecturer has "gotten some flack" about how he handled this issue. However, he reported that this incident happened in December when the story of ChatGPT was fresh in higher education. That is just one incident facilitated by what someone in academia has called 'CheatGPT.' However, Antony's "punishment" is said to have been too soft. I tend to disagree with this statement. If the chatbot is used intelligently, why can't it be implemented into education as a tool? Isn't it exhausting for educators to play the plagiarism police when there are programs that are becoming sneakier and more advanced by the minute?

A change of heart

Antony spoke to Cybernews Academy about how his outlook on the software has changed since this moment. He mentioned that "There was so much focus on what I'll call playing cop. How do we punish them? How do we deter it? And I, really early on, got caught up in that mindset." He says, "I was all about detecting and prevention, and I've since decided that was a mistake." Antony's philosophy has transitioned from copy cop to ChatGPT sympathizer. The Philosopher said, "We have a responsibility to find a way to teach students how to use it responsibly. And so, since then, I've been less, like, Oh, can I catch them? And how should I punish them? And more, how can I teach them how to use it." Some teachers have shunned ChatGPT and banished it from campuses to try and avoid a copy crisis. However, doesn't that just exacerbate things? Aren't things that are known as taboo more desirable and sought after? We all know that broccoli is great for you, but the desire to consume it isn't there. But sugar is, the desire to indulge in sugary treats is greater, arguably because they are "bad for you." So, what if you implement sugar into your diet daily? Do you want to overindulge then? The more schools ban things like ChatGPT, the more likely kids find ways to overindulge in them. So, to end the desire, we need to implement these things into our daily lives to a degree. And that's exactly what Anthony did. Instead of banishing ChatGPT from his classroom Antony encouraged it. He told his student that they "can use it as much or as little as (they) want to on all of (their) assignments." You will never imagine the outcome. Antony said he was surprised by "how few students actually used it." Success, the craving is gone, now an option, the opportunity is there, and nobody wants to use it. Anthony commented that approximately "80% of them still really didn't want to use it, or if they did use it, it was just to polish a rough draft."

If you’re going to use it, use it right!

From what we at Cybernews Academy can gather, approximately 20% of his class used ChatGPT to complete assignments. But how well did they use ChatGPT? Was there any point in even using the software? Antony spoke on how "naive" people can be when using the chatbot. The lecturer told us that his students would "Ask it a question, and it gets an answer, and they're like, Okay, so that's the answer. But that's not the best way to use ChatGPT. The best way to use it is to converse with it and have follow-up questions where you push it to say more than what it initially says. And better uses of it involved asking it for alternatives." Due to the chatbot's conversational nature, Anthony believes it should be used intelligently, "Don't just give me one answer to this question, ask it to give you four answers and then sort through it for yourself, but those are more sophisticated uses." When implemented in classrooms, we can educate and develop students' understanding of the program and their degrees. Antony confirmed this: "We need to educate students to get more out of ChatGPT. If it's going to be this tool that's everywhere." Indeed, artificial intelligence is being used across various industries. When asked about AI and its potential eradication from education, Antony said it's like "sticking your head in the sand." He also pointed out the detrimental effects it may have on employability in the future. "First of all, we see businesses worldwide demanding that their employees know how to use this and take advantage of it to make better products. What does the business care about, the best possible product? Do they care exactly how you came up with that end product? No, they do not." Isn't education like any other industry? Wouldn't it be better to implement these technologies and put them to good use instead of shunning those that use them? Antony responded passionately, "If you're going to ban this from university, you're putting students at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to getting jobs." Therefore, we have no choice but to integrate it into our lives. It's here to stay. In addition, it can be put to good use. So many students are yet to unlock their full potential, as one of its hidden assets is using the chatbot as a form of mentorship.

ChatGPT your guide to academic success

Antony commented on mentorship multiple times throughout the interview, discussing his use of ChatGPT. He mentioned that he had a lot of ideas during the pandemic, and he would ask ChatGPT, "This one paragraph, it doesn't sound that right. Can you give me a couple of different ways to put that paragraph, and it does? I would pick and sort between them and combine them with my ideas" From there, he would "run it through the chat one last time" and ask, "Can you find any grammatical fixes? And it points out a few, and I'd ammed those." For those for who English isn't their first language or perhaps struggle with learning disabilities like dyslexia, ChatGPT can be an excellent tool to fix structural issues, spelling mistakes or correct grammatical errors. Antony mentioned this idea in our interview, he said, "The students who got the most out of it, who said they'd used it and found it most beneficial, were students for whom English wasn't their first language." I understand what it's like to have all the ideas but struggle to structure them coherently. So, it's an excellent tool for those students who had all "these ideas but just couldn't articulate them in a way that would be compelling." Similarly, those with learning disabilities could benefit from using software like this. Students with extenuating circumstances are often given extra time or a teaching assistant who can help write down their thoughts. Why is ChatGPT any different? Antony said, "I think it's also great for students with learning disabilities. I have a lot of kids with dyslexia in my classes, or something like dyslexia, and often their ideas are working, but when they try to write it down, it gets all mixed up and confused, and that's something that the chat is good at doing." ChatGPT has indisputable benefits that seem to outweigh the negatives regarding academia. Think of it as your academic mentor, it won't do the work for you, but it may help guide you in the right direction.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Antony made an interesting point about academic etiquette, “As part of the academic practice, we don't insist that everybody just sit in the room by themselves. Never talk to anybody or get feedback on their writing to produce the end product.” It’s a natural part of life, information transference. We are constantly transferring information from one person to the next. So, why is ChatGPT any different? Just because it's an automaton doesn’t mean its feedback is negligible or illegitimate. Of course, the program has its limitations, and we must take everything it says with a pinch of salt, but it can still be great if the student-to-faculty ratio in your university is high. Don’t be afraid to ask ChatGPT questions. Just don’t allow it to do the work for you. Antony commented on this idea by saying ChatGPT’s feedback “sounds exactly like what we do. When we ask our advisor for help or a colleague for help, we ask them for feedback and then take the time to incorporate that feedback into our work. And so, then you have this AI as a buddy.” So what’s the harm in using it? It’s your academic mentor, your artificial intelligence friend. I see nothing nefarious in that. However, institutions across the globe are still banning the software. How do you think universities and schools will feasibly deny the software?

Ban me if you dare

So, Antony posits, “How exactly are you going to ban it?” This a question I know we’ve all been dying to know. Are you “going to ban it on the Wi-Fi network? Well, students will just use their cell service to get it.” Antony argues that banning ChatGPT is “Not going to be effective.” Indeed, the technology is only becoming more advanced, companies aren’t simply going to erase the service– banning the tool will only force students to take ulterior measures. If you didn’t think policing artificial intelligence in academia was enough, teachers now use unreliable measures to seek out cheating. Anthony commented on the use of AI checkers, he said, “There are lots of AI checkers out there, most famously Edward Tian's GPT Zero. But they're super unreliable.” Anthony shed some light on the way AI writing checkers work. “They check for regularity in your writing, and the thought is that we humans are very chaotic in our thinking and writing, but the robot is very regular in sentence structure. So, if you're writing in a common way, it must be a robot, not you.” That seems full-proof. Not exactly. This intellectual gave an example of how unreliable these AI checkers are, “if you look at the empirical data on it, the number of false positives, the number of people where it says it's a robot, but it's a human.” This is another reason we cannot feasibly ban the use of AI. The technology to detect artificial intelligence just isn’t there yet. The lecturer suggested that the number of false positives is between 30 and 40 percent. He has even spoken to many lawyers about the issue, and they have stated, “If you brought that before a criminal court, that is not enough to convict somebody.” So, how will teachers end this insufferable problem, this continual cat-and-mouse between student and teacher? I guess if you can’t beat it, then you’re going to learn to work with it.

It’s official, ChatGPT is here to stay– in Antony’s opinion, the software shouldn’t be challenged but incorporated into general practice. His philosophy is that we must teach students how to use it to their advantage, not their detriment. So, what do you think? Do you think it should be banned or welcomed with open arms? If your institution accepted ChatGPT, would you still use it? Or is its illegitimacy all part of the thrill? Personally, our journalist at Cybernews Academy never thought of technology and philosophy sharing any kind of semblance. However, the only way to navigate the broad scope of artificial intelligence is to look at its philosophy. This is the only way we will learn to work with artificial intelligence in education and our general lives.