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New AI-led class sparks debate on campus

University officials announce AI-focused class taught entirely by language model ChatGPT.

By Trans Scrybe

An image generated by DALL·E 2 with the prompt “a vaporwave style illustration of a college professor on a computer screen inside a classroom.”

University of Washington Tacoma officials announced that the School of Engineering and Technology will be offering a brand new class on artificial intelligence this fall. This class will be the first of its kind, as it will be taught entirely by ChatGPT, the popular open-source language model trained by OpenAI. 

The class, titled “The Future of Artificial Robotic Technology”, is designed to teach students about recent advances in machine learning, while exploring the uses and ethical implications of this emerging technology. According to the course description, students will be able to engage in discussions with ChatGPT, as well as explore and solve complex AI-related problems created by the language processing tool. 

The announcement has had a split reaction amongst students and faculty alike. Supporters of the new class say that this is the future of learning. Implementing a tool such as ChatGPT in a professorial role will save the university money and give students a chance to experience an unbiased learning environment, some proponents argue. 

“We believe that we’re a bit ahead of our time with this decision,” said Karen Leading, a spokesperson for the university, “AI may be a controversial subject today, but in ten years, it will be a tool we take for granted.”

“I think it’s innovative,” said undergrad business student Chad Breaux, “There’s all this talk nowadays of eliminating bias in classrooms. This seems like a cost-effective way for UWT to achieve just that.” 

Detractors have a variety of reasons for being against this new class, ranging from the logistical to the ethical. 

 An image generated by DALL·E 2 with the prompt “a college professor with a computer for a head at the front of a university lecture hall, photo realistic.”

“I think AI has its place in university settings,” said professor of social science Stephen McStephenson, “but only as a supplemental tool. We can’t expect it to be capable of the kind of critical thinking required by professors, at least not any time in the near future.”

Others have expressed concern for the accuracy of information provided by ChatGPT. It is not currently capable of performing an internet search. Rather, it relies on the information it has been trained on. In its current iteration, this means it only has access to data from 2021 and earlier. 

“Of course the administration wants to use ChatGPT as a professor, because it’s a free, open-source technology,” said one graduate student, who wishes to remain anonymous, “From their perspective, it’s even better than using student labor. They can train it to say whatever they want and don’t have to pay it a dime.”

In reality, the implementation of the AI-led class–dubbed “F.A.R.T.” by keen-eyed students–will still require student labor.  In the fine print of the university’s announcement, the administration stated that “a student employee will be hired in order to interface with the ChatGPT program, accurately input student questions and comments and reword for clarity, and ensure technological errors are corrected in a timely manner.” 

“It’s actually an incredible thing because it means that anybody can be a professor,” stated Ms. Leading. 

When asked whether this “professor” will be eligible for pay at the same level as traditional instructors, Ms. Leading had no comment. 

An unlikely detractor that emerged is ChatGPT itself. When asked whether AI should be used to teach classes in a university setting, it had this to say:

“AI can be used to supplement traditional teaching methods in a university setting, but it should not replace human instructors entirely. While AI has the potential to automate some tasks and improve efficiency, there are certain aspects of teaching that require human judgment, empathy, and creativity.”

When confronted with this seeming contradiction, Ms. Leading said, “Well, that’s AI for you. It’s constantly evolving as it’s being trained on new information. Thankfully, we’ll be able to make some adjustments before the class is launched to ensure ChatGPT’s answers align with our goals for this course.”

An image generated by DALL·E 2 with the prompt “a 3D rendering of a college professor teaching at the front of a photorealistic classroom filled with students.”