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Writing in the age of AI: Cal Poly professor discusses ChatGPT's impacts

Chat GPT on mobile.
Photo by Airam Dato-on
Chat GPT on mobile.

There’s a new artificial intelligence technology called . It’s causing concern in educational and professional settings across the nation — but a Cal Poly English professor says the technology is only as good as its user.

ChatGPT can generate text that mimics human writing and conversation. Cal Poly English Professor Dr. Jason Peters spoke at a Good Morning SLO event last month about its potential and pitfalls.

First, he asked the program to describe itself.

“Here's what it said," Peters read. "I'm a generative pre-trained transformer, designed to understand and generate human-like text in a conversational manner, simulating the experience of interacting with a human.”

Chat GPT generates original responses based on prompts users enter in. It can write original essays, letters and even computer code.

“There’s never really been anything capable of doing this before," Peters said.

Peters has been experimenting with Chat GPT since its release last year and found it to be effective at writing essays. That’s raised fears that students will use it to submit work they didn’t actually write.

However, Peters said its output is only as good as the prompts you feed it.

“What I found is it works best when you already know your topic very well and when you know the specific argument you want to make," Peters said.

Because ChatGPT isn’t capable of pulling quotes from text or referencing current events, Peters said students still need to exercise their critical thinking skills to write detailed prompts.

There are also new technologies like GPT Zero which educators can use to try to figure out whether or not text was written by a human.

Even with ChatGPT’s limitations and ethical concerns, Peters wants people to understand its potential as a powerful writing assistive technology.

He believes better writing technologies allow writers to focus on the quality of ideas and arguments, rather than the physical process of producing sentences. This can help writers potentially think of new and exciting ideas.

"Some ideas come from writers just messing around with technologies, that help them mess around with existing ideas and texts, in a process that can eventually lead to designing and making something surprising and new,” Peters said.

As more companies follow suit and continue to invest in AI technologies like Chat GPT, it’s clear these tools are here to stay.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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