When I was a kid, our school had one computer per classroom. Luxury!
Teachers had long-since given up on the state of my handwriting. So I got special dispensation to write up some of my work on whatever primitive word processor was installed on the PC. With one caveat: no spell check!
Which, even as a ten year old, I thought was reasonable. Learning to spell is an adult life skill. So using a spell-checker was cheating.
Once I got to secondary school, it was assumed that I knew how to spell. And there was no restriction on using Wrd 2.0's splel chek.
But I had one teacher him hated an grammar check. He thought it encouraged laziness of writing. Which, to be fair, it probably did.
Of course, come exam season, there were no computers. All answers were laboriously hand-written. The use of spell- and grammar-checking software had left me lazy. And my handwriting had atrophied beyond all hope. It's a miracle I passed!
Spell Checking is Artificial Intelligence.
It doesn't seem like it because it is so ubiquitous now. But it is more than just a computer looking up words in a list. There's a huge corpus of learning which goes into spotting homophones, predicting which word you meant, and calculating the likeliest candidates based on your previous writing.
I'm now in the middle of writing up my MSc dissertation. I'm doing it in Google Docs - because I'm a masochist.
Google Docs has a useful feature called Smart Suggestions which → offers to autocomplete your sentences.
Is that cheating?
I've signed a declaration to my University saying that my dissertation is all my own work. But it isn't.
Google's AI suggested a couple of dozen sentences. Google's AI proofread and corrected both my spelling and grammar. Just how much of my work was generated by 2022's Clippy?
The general consensus from my teachers is that it is not cheating.
Is that cheating?
I think most people will instinctively say yes. A whole essay written by machine is cheating.
An autocompleted sentence is fine. But a whole essay is not. Where's the line? To reinvigorate an old joke "We've already established that some AI is cheating - now we're just haggling over character count".
If I need a paragraph summarising the history of mayonnaise, do I need to waste my time writing that - or can I outsource it to an AI? Doing so doesn't prove I understand the material. But is it materially worse than taking someone else's work and rewording it into my own style?
Perhaps AI isn't cheating when it is merely scaffolding?
When Clippy offered to help with writing a letter, it usually meant that it would show you how to format an address and whether to end with "Yours faithfully" or "Yours sincerely". Is it cheating to use a well-structured template?
This ramble-post is to say that I don't know. My essays are mostly my work. When the AI has suggested something, I've been free to reject it. But I rarely do. Google Docs knows what I want to write before I write it. Am I merely the editor of machine generated text?
One paragraph of this blog post was generated by OpenAI. Can you spot it?
Does it matter?