Universities in the US and in Australia this week took steps to stop an emerging artificial intelligence software known as ChatGPT from doing exams for students.
The software which can write essays and codes for programming questions on anything that happened before 2021 promises to change the future of search engines and has been billed as a threat to academia, journalism and other professions that require research and writing.
What is ChatGPT and what is it used for?
ChatGPT (Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) is a conversational application unveiled in November 2022. The natural language processing tool allows users to have human-like conversations.
It has been useful in tasks such as composing emails, essays and code.
Who is behind ChatGPT?
The AI chatbot was released by Microsoft-backed research and deployment firm Open AI. The tool is capable of generating well-composed and convincing answers to questions about numerous subjects.
It can even write essays and codes for programming questions as long as the question is about something that happened before 2021.
Open AI is also known for the creation of the popular AI art generator Dall-E 2 and the automatic speech recognition system Whisper.
The company was co-founded in 2015 in San Francisco by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, who left the business three years later.
Why is it such a great deal?
Within less than a week of its launch, the AI chatbot had become wildly popular amassing over a million users. The tool has earned the company hundreds of millions going by the assertions of OpenAI's chief executive Sam Altman on Twitter that, since launching ChatGPT more than one million users had signed up and that the average cost of each response was in "single-digits cents".
Reports indicate OpenAI is in talks to sell existing shares in a deal structured as a tender offer that would value the company at around $29 billion.
This makes it one of the most valuable U.S. startups on paper despite generating little revenue.
How do users access ChatGPT?
This advanced chatbot can be accessed by visiting chat.openai.com and creating an OpenAI account. Upon signing in, one can start chatting away on the platform.
Currently, users can access it free of charge and ask as many questions as they like since the software is still in its research stage.
A number of technical details regarding the tool are yet to be figured out before it's widely used to prevent negative outcomes.
These include aspects such as the spread of misinformation. Generally, AI models rely on lots of training and fine-tuning to reach a level of ideal performance.
Why is it being banned in the US?
There has been concern that the AI bot has negative impacts on students’ learning as it suppresses critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
It has been argued that its generation of quick and easy answers to questions may work to drag academic and lifelong success.
The fears stem from the fact that ChatGPT’s ability to write essays on an array of subjects within seconds could render traditional writing of assignments obsolete.
Over the years, writing essays has been used to test students’ knowledge and their ability to express ideas. It has been argued that students could start using it to submit AI-written essays which translates to cheating or they could avoid learning how to write properly.
New York City Schools, the largest school department in the US, has blocked student and teacher access to ChatGPT on its devices and networks.
The department explained its decision is based on the "negative impacts on student learning and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of the content."
ChatGPT-generated answers have also been temporarily banned by Stack Overflow – a developer question and answer site-- due to users submitting quickly produced, authentic-looking but low-quality answers that overwhelmed moderators.
What challenges and opportunities does ChatGPT present?
While the New York City Schools has restricted access to ChatGPT on its networks and devices, students can still access the site on their own devices and networks outside of the school.
This means that the impact of banning it to avert cheating on essays remains to be seen.
In addition to this, the department will still allow individual schools to request access to the ChatGPT website if they intend to study the technology behind it.
This goes to show the potential of the AI bot to disrupt the traditional way of doing things.
A section of industry observers have lauded the tool as a major technological breakthrough saying it could potentially offer an alternative to search engines in future.
This comes amid Mr Altman’s acknowledgement that the program’s outputs often contained factual errors.
What is the difference between ChatGPT and a search engine?
ChatGPT is a language model created with the purpose of holding a conversation with the end user. On the other hand, a search engine indexes web pages on the internet to help the user find the information they asked for.
ChatGPT does not have the ability to search the internet for information and rather, uses the information it learned from training data to generate a response, which leaves room for error.
What are the limitations of ChatGPT?
Like any machine learning model, it is only as good as the data it was trained on. If the training data contains biases, it may produce biased output.
It is not capable of creating new knowledge or ideas in the way that a human can so it may still require human verification.
OpenAI hopes to one day achieve what AI researchers call “artificial general intelligence,” or technology that can fully mirror the intelligence and capabilities of humans.
In a December interview with the Journal, Mr Altman said OpenAI’s tools could transform technology similar to the invention of the smartphone and tackle larger scientific challenges.
What are some of the aspects that should not be ignored?
Safety: As AI systems become more complex and capable, it is important to ensure that they are safe and reliable.
Privacy: AI systems often involve the processing and storage of large amounts of personal data, and it is important to ensure that this data is protected and used responsibly,
Ethics: AI systems should be designed and used in ways that are ethical and fair.
Can Africa avoid AI and still survive?
AI will integrate with other technologies and help in fast-tracking Research and Development, service delivery, business modelling, product development, market access, business intelligence, and go-to-market strategies.
Critical issues will include merging with IoT (Internet-of-Things), blockchain, cybersecurity, and generally in the tech revolution, social-economic, and governance in Africa.