JCU Hosts Roundtable Discussion on ChatGPT

On February 20, 2023, the Office of the Dean of Academic Affairs hosted a roundtable discussion about the new software ChatGPT. The discussion focused on the ethics of AI, the potential for bias, and other consequences on academia. Manlio Perugini, Reference and Instruction Librarian, and Coordinator of the Center for Teaching and Learning at JCU moderated the discussion. The event was attended by faculty across all departments.



ChatGPT is a language model artificial intelligence chatbot that was developed by OpenAI and first released November 20, 2022. It is a variant of the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) family of language models and is taught to give logical and human-like responses to a broad range of questions. The chatbot is trained on a large amount of data coming from a variety of sources – including books, articles, websites, and other texts in multiple languages – determined by the AI developers. These data are not explicitly labeled, with the exception of what is deemed toxic content.

The main question of the discussion was how ethical ChatGPT is, what the side effects of using this program in an academic setting are, and whether ChatGPT should be embraced or rejected. ChatGPT can answer questions like humans, so students can, and have been using this application to complete assignments. The program has passed almost all plagiarism checks because it does not copy information from the internet, (instead assembling it based on probability distribution coming from the training data and human feedback), which gives students free assistance with endless possibilities.

Some speakers suggested that ChatGPT should be embraced, because it is useful for students who have difficulties to do certain formatting for writing, or how to structure an essay properly. So, ChatGPT would give them the push they need to get started and become more understanding of the process. Others suggested that it is cheating and should never be used. However, an interesting point that was brought up is that just like students, professors could also use the chat to create lesson plans and topics for class. This creates ethical questions in academia as a whole.

Overall, a major outcome of the roundtable was the need to directly address the challenges and opportunities presented by artificial intelligence in academia in a constructive and proactive manner. AI is part of the current scenario: as such, it needs to be taken into account with the utmost critical thinking, in order to better understand its implications and harness its full educational potential.

Whether or not ChatGPT is considered to be unethical remains to be established. The technology is still very new and regulations and rules about when it can be used have not yet been decided. Just like with all new technology that emerges in the digital age, discussions about when and where to use it must happen.