AI is Here: Addressing the Controversies and Future Speculations

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence. has been at the cornerstone of many nuanced conversations of 2024. Open AI’s Chat GPT and DALL·E 3 software has created many new opportunities for users to explore all that AI has to offer. However, as the line between AI as an academic tool and AI as an academic crutch becomes blurred, many new questions arise. How should colleges tackle this new tool? What is the future for AI and computer science? What about AI and math? And how do the rising controversies surrounding AI affect our work and humanity? 

In response to the first question, many academic institutions, including Hope College are using AI to their benefit. An article written in the summer of 2023 by Josh Bishop, titled, “AI and Liberal Arts: Embracing the Power, Preserving Humanity,” discusses this point further. “To ask how AI might be used at Hope would be something of a misnomer, because the technology is already being used on campus,” Bishop asserts in his article. “It’s editing images and graphics, generating content, refining emails, and cleaning up computer code. And in an ironic twist, faculty members are using AI to catch students who try to cheat by turning in AI-generated assignments.” Further in his article, Bishop sheds light on the gray area that the emergence of AI has brought into academic spaces: the issue of academic integrity. “The curious element of using AI-generated papers is that it isn’t, strictly speaking, plagiarism: the AI generator isn’t copying text that already exists but actively generating original content.” However, Dr. Griffin, Hope’s current Provost, provided clarity on this issue. In Bishop’s article, Dr. Griffin states, “We already are interpreting our policy to say that generative AI is a breach of academic integrity . . . Without a proper citation or permission of the instructor, if you put in a prompt, take from a produced essay, and put your name on it, you’ve misrepresented work that you’ve not done.” While this affirmation of plagiarism is important to keep in mind, the tools that AI can offer before crossing this line are also important to understand as this new technology continually develops. 

To gather more information about the tools AI provides, I emailed Wesley Stewart, a junior and Computer Science major here at Hope. We discussed some of the emerging questions about AI, and its relation to the Computer Science field. First, I asked Stewart to provide a general overview of computer science, so I could better understand how AI factors into this field of study. “Hope’s Computer Science program is a general introduction to all sides of software development,” Stewart said. “From a diverse portfolio of learned languages to intense study of the very basics of what makes computers tick, we do it all.” Next, I asked Stewart about how AI specifically aids in the field of computer science. “AI in coding is a really interesting case where, while generative language models can be helpful for tips and tricks or debugging simple coding issues, they aren’t super useful at doing projects for you like they can in other fields,” Stewart noted. “Computer science requires critical thinking and context knowledge that generative AI can’t have in its current state.” 

In addition, I asked Stewart about where he thinks AI oversteps important boundaries. He addressed some of the controversies that it yields: “I think that the biggest overreach that generative AI has done so far is the massive amount of non-consensual, non-compensated works that have been stolen and used as test data to train these algorithms.The conversation usually comes there for works of AI Art, but text generation is just as egregious in that area.” Following this, I inquired about another controversy: AI’s prevalence within the workplace. According to an article from CNBC, “More than one-third (37%) of business leaders say AI replaced workers in 2023 (Curry). . .” In response to this statistic, Stewart asserted how he doesn’t think AI poses much of a threat for the field of computer science. “If you tried to replace an actual software engineer with GPT4 in its current state, you officially have traded a software engineer for a glorified search engine,” he said. “Almost all of what generative AI pulls from to give you in terms of coding advice are from publicly accessible books and forums. It also is not guaranteed to be right or even the answer to your question/coding prompt. . .” This is important when considering how AI presents a risk when used for academic aid: it may not present accurate information. Stewart expanded on this issue and paralleled it with the emergence of the internet: “Generative AI is such a controversial thing right now in a very similar way to the internet twenty years ago but in different areas of study. Where the internet streamlined research and information processing in a way never before seen, generative AI streamlines any sort of text generation in a way that we have never seen before. I think that, in time, people will find ways to work around generative AI and incorporate it into learning similar to how the internet has been incorporated into learning today. When looking at it like that, I conclude that generative AI becomes a crutch at the same time that the internet becomes a crutch: When you’re mining one or the other for quotes/ideas to simply copy-paste into your assignment and not truly learning. . . it has officially become a crutch.” Stewart isn’t alone in his outlook on the risky side of AI. 

Dr. Devereux, a professor in the Mathematics and Statistics department at Hope, shared caution about this nuanced risk, and expanded on the dangers it poses. “I remember being a college student, and I remember how hard it [was],” Devereux recollected. “. . .One of the worst decisions to make as a student is to cheat. The danger there is that a student who is stressed is more likely to use a more powerful tool in a way that doesn’t aid their education. Instead of correcting your mistakes or pointing out your flaws, you’re using it to create something, and I think it costs you as a student.” In light of this, though, Dr. Devereux shared optimism about how AI has positively affected the math field. “. . . AI is a great tool for efficiency. . . I want AI to become a part of math education, Devereux stated. “I’ve read about systems in AI that check if a mathematical proof is correct. It’s heading in a direction where students are going to be able to check the logical accuracy of their work in a way they’ve never been able to do before.” This answer paved the way for my next question, which concerned the future of AI. Dr. Devereux made a comparison to a mathematical breakthrough that occurred in the 1970s, and articulated how his curiosity about the possibilities of AI is ever-increasing. “There was a very interesting result in the 1800s called the four color conjecture. . .Until the 1970s, they finally came up with a proof for it using computers . . . I think about that and I think about AI coming into this . . . I don’t know that we would have a proof for that, were it not for this computer aid. I think AI has the potential to do that. There are some big questions we have in math– things that a few years ago I would have said ‘I don’t expect those to be solved in my lifetime,’ and now I don’t know.” 

Addressing another less talked-about controversy, I asked Dr. Devereux about how humanism clashes with AI: Does AI take away the humanistic aspect of mathematics and cloud math’s creativity with convenience? Devereux told me he thinks there is still so much humanity and creativity in math, even with AI on the horizon as a tool. “There’s still so much creativity in mathematics that requires a human mind. And while AI can suggest new ideas, it still requires human input and previous information to be fed to it to influence those ideas. And part of the beauty of mathematics is that people are coming up with some pretty amazing ideas and making connections that feel so new, and different. And I don’t think AI is yet at the place to challenge that. If it ever does, then at least right now, I still see it as a tool made by humans to do so– I think there’s still humanity in that.”

Just like many new emerging technologies, AI brings an array of nuanced questions to the table. While it does provide users with a host of useful tools in many different areas, it also doesn’t guarantee accurate information, and discounts the authorship and artistry of many of its source materials. And while it can be argued that there is still humanity and creativity left untouched by AI, the growing number of jobs it is replacing may thwart this optimism. Through communicating with Stewart and Dr. Devereux, it is clear that they both parallel the rise of artificial intelligence with the rise of the internet. Perhaps the future of AI will mimic that momentous time in history– paving a way for even newer technological advancements. 

(Featured image: Nico Kazlauskas)

'AI is Here: Addressing the Controversies and Future Speculations' has 1 comment

  1. March 6, 2024 @ 11:11 pm Kyle Spiegel

    Great article!! That guy in the picture looks awfully familiar… 🤔


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