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On the syllabus of an elective college course, I have stated that a student who plagiarizes once will receive a zero for the assignment. A student who plagiarizes twice will receive zeros for the assignments and may withdraw or take an F for the course. So, a student in an elective course submitted an assignment created by AI (artificial intelligence). She did not deny it, but asked for the chance to submit another essay in its place. With some misgivings, I agreed to this. As I was grading the journals due that day, I found that her new work was also created by AI. I commented on this and she apologized via email, "explaining" that she had submitted the journal after the meeting in which I'd agreed to let her rewrite her essay.

At this point, I can either still let her rewrite the essay and warn her yet again, or tell her that under the circumstances, I cannot accept a rewrite from her. She could have told me during our meeting that she had again submitted plagiarized work.

What do you think I should do?

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 24, 2023 at 17:03
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    Where in the world are you located? It might influence the answer based on cultural and legal aspects. Apr 25, 2023 at 9:07
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    "she had submitted the journal after the meeting" and "She could have told me during our meeting that she had again submitted plagiarized work." are contradictory. Was the second submission before or after the meeting about the first?
    – ojchase
    Apr 25, 2023 at 15:09
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    @Mike Your "both were submitted before the discussion about the essay" interpretation doesn't make sense in light of OP saying "she had submitted the journal after the meeting". OP maybe needs to relabel everything to say Paper A and Paper B and check their "before" and "after" in the sentences.
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 25, 2023 at 18:31
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    @DKNguyen You're right; I must have missed that. But I think that "after" must have been a typo for "before". I was relying more on this: "She could have told me during our meeting that she had again submitted plagiarized work." Which seems to directly contradict the "submitted after" clause...
    – Mike
    Apr 25, 2023 at 19:26

13 Answers 13

86

This is hard, but also common. You have to fail her in the course. The usual student response varies from fessin' up to full denial until you can show hard evidence, then they go into "you're ruining my life over a small mistake!" A small minority of students know that it's more work for you to go through than to give them yet another break. In my institution, the administration puts all of the burden on the professor, and students know it. Still, I take the time to go through it. Students talk a lot about their professors, and having the reputation of a pushover will only bring more of that type of student into your classes. Usually, the student drops the course once they know you will be giving them an F, and if the drop deadline has passed, they go to the counseling center and get a late drop extension for "mental health reasons." It's an evolutionary arms race.

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    You have to admire the chutzpah of arguing that you got caught twice cheating, but that the second time should not count because ... I still don't understand the student's argument. Because they didn't know cheating was not allowed until you told them so? Some of these students argue like 4-year-olds.
    – Cheery
    Apr 22, 2023 at 22:31
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    Quite honestly, I don't know where they come from. Agree it is "an evolutionary arms race," and I fear we are losing.
    – Dan
    Apr 22, 2023 at 23:01
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    It counts double. She submitted it already and thinks she gets a free pass? Basically, by withholding information she essentially cheated again the very moment she did not tell you about the second AI-written submission. This is reason for aggravation, not for lenience. Apr 23, 2023 at 16:11
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    @Kubahasn'tforgottenMonica Well, you explain to them that they lose the game the moment they play it. Nobody cares much about their marks once they have been in the workforce for 1-2 years. They will be found out if they don't do the job well. They have failed in cheating, so they are not even effective on this level. I am quite blunt in telling this to students, and to make clear to them that the assessment is as much for their own benefit (in terms of feedback how they are doing) as to anyone else's. The argument of "unfairness" has long lost its edge, but this line seems to work a bit. Apr 23, 2023 at 16:14
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    @CaptainEmacs I will also add to this from the corporate side (software development). Students who cheated in their education are basically worthless, and you can literally smell it on how they work. The verbal gymnastics, vagueness, aggressiveness, emotional pleas, etc. It's like a giant sign on their forehead that says "useless". I give them the benefit of the doubt, but eventually they'll really cheat during training by copying code from a colleague, and that's immediate dismissal. I don't bother explaining to them anything because it's within probation. They're just gone.
    – Nelson
    Apr 24, 2023 at 1:35
48

A slightly different answer. Though of course, I agree with the others that say you should check your institution's policies before deciding whether / how to handle this on your own.

On the syllabus...I...stated that a student who plagiarizes once will receive a zero for the assignment. A student who plagiarizes twice...may withdraw or take an F for the course.

This is a very reasonable policy. You should have stuck with it.

a student...asked for the chance to submit another essay in its place. With some misgivings, I agreed to this.

Mistake! What's the point of having a policy if you're not going to follow it? I hope you at least (1) did not agree to give her full credit, and (2) will file a report so that she cannot have a new "first offense" in a different class.

As I was grading the journals due that day, I found that her new work was also created by AI...she apologized via email, "explaining" that she had submitted the journal [before being caught on] her essay.

Your policy probably didn't envision this scenario -- you may feel that a student who submits two plagiarized assignments before being caught deserves less of a penalty than a student who submitted one, got caught, and then submitted another anyway. Or you may feel that plagiarism is so manifestly unacceptable that the timing doesn't matter. Either way, make sure your policy accurately reflects what you want to happen.

At this point, I can either still let her rewrite the essay and warn her yet again, or tell her that under the circumstances, I cannot accept a rewrite from her

The essay case is already adjudicated, you already agreed to let her rewrite that one. But this journal case is new and separate. As I see it, there are two options:

  • You could treat this journal case as a first offense (since you've already agreed to overlook the essay case) and assign a zero on the journal. Or,
  • You could treat this journal case as a second offense (since she did in fact plagiarize twice) and allow the student to withdraw or take an F for the course.

Personally, I would lean toward the former if she had voluntarily confessed about the journal. Since she didn't, I would lean toward the latter. But either is defensible at this point.

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    +1 for "write it up for the Academic Dishonesty Office". That way, even if you stay with your lenient approach and they pass your course, there's a strong deterrent. Apr 23, 2023 at 6:06
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    Imma play devil's advocate and say go with option 1. This way the student can't use loophole arguments to complain about broken promises (however fatuous), and at the same time gets at least one zero. If the journal is in any way a significant component of the grade, that will make it very difficult to get a good mark (if normally they are studious) or a just-passed grade (it they are normally as slack as they sound in the problem). Relevant to the situation is the explicitness of AI being documented as a form of plagiarism. I can see that being used as a loophole, too.
    – mcalex
    Apr 24, 2023 at 1:13
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I'm not sure why you ask. You made the consequences clear. For this assignment a zero seems clearly in order. Failing the course doesn't seem out of order, though it is a bit harsh.

Decide whether there is any reason to believe this student will behave properly in the future. Letting them skate by won't work to change their behavior.

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  • That would mean she has the chance to rewrite the plagiarized essay which counts 20% toward the final grade, but gets a zero on the journal assignment she submitted after she'd submitted the plagiarized essay. Her "explanation" for submitting the plagiarized journal was that she didn't know at that point that I'd let her rewrite the essay. My question is why she didn't tell me she'd plagiarized again during our meeting. I am tempted to offer her a withdrawal. I don't want to fail her for the course.
    – Dan
    Apr 22, 2023 at 22:23
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    Failing the course doesn't seem out of order, though it is a bit harsh - I'm not sure why this sounds harsh to you. Are you saying the OP's original policy was harsh? Or it's harsh in this scenario because the student thought they got away with cheating the first time before they cheated again?
    – Kimball
    Apr 23, 2023 at 6:20
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    @Dan "was that she didn't know at that point that I'd let her rewrite the essay" this explanation doesn't make any sense. Whether you'd let her rewrite the first cheated essay shouldn't change her decision to cheat on the second essay. Unless she's saying she didn't come clean because she was scared she'd get a 0 on both essays? I suspect she might be lying to you.
    – Drake P
    Apr 23, 2023 at 19:18
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    @Dan You are way too lenient. "My question is why she didn't tell me she'd plagiarized again during our meeting." Do you really not know why?
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 23, 2023 at 22:16
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    @Dan To make this explicit: The student is ignorant enough to believe they can get away with this, even after they've been caught once. The professor is ignorant enough to let them get away with this, even though they know the student cheated twice.
    – Servaes
    Apr 23, 2023 at 23:00
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In my experience, most universities have specific policies and procedures for dealing with academic misconduct by students. These are the applicable policies in such cases and they will typically override what an individual instructor puts in a course syllabus. Universities usually do not give discretion to academics to formulate their own rules and punishments for academic misconduct, so the conditions you have stated in your syllabus might not be binding (depending on the degree of discretion granted under university policy).^

I recommend that you immediately read your university policy and procedures on academic misconduct and seek assistance in applying those policies and procedures to the present case. For a second infraction, this would almost certainly involve some kind of formal escalation to a disciplinary process under the procedure, which usually involves some kind of hearing with the Head of School or a relevant delegate. If you are unsure of what to do, talk to your Head of School or to a relevant staff member in the ethics office of the university.

As a secondary matter, unless you have advice to the contrary, you should generally avoid formulating your own rules and punishments on academic misconduct in your course syllabus, and instead refer students to the general university policies and procedures that operate in these cases. If you are unsure, seek advice from your Head of School to see what you are allowed to put in the syllabus. It is possible that your existing syllabus could cause problems for the university, if it is inconsistent with general policies for dealing with academic misconduct.


^ By stating a specific punishment on your syllabus, it is possible that you may have imposed a "cap" on the level of punishment the student can receive based on their right not to be misled on university policies by your syllabus. Aside from this possibility, the university policy and procedure will typically override rules and punishments formulated by individual lecturers.

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  • I agree where your basic assumption is true, which it usually is in the UK, and from what you are saying, in Australia. However, my experience is that Professors in the US are given much more freedom and less guidence over such things. Apr 25, 2023 at 9:45
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I wonder whether part of the problem here is the definition of plagiarize. From Merriam Webster:

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source

What is "another"? Normally that would be another person. Not another intelligence of some form. One could even argue "I told the AI some keywords and stuff, so the output is based on what I told it".

I am sure many schools have already formally worked AI into their plagiarism rules, and many more will in the near future. But unless your instructions specifically included "AI" or "computer generated" or similar, if I were a student who wanted to push the limits then I might try to see if an AI could take care of my assignments for me.

I would recommend the following:

  • Make it clear to this particular student that AI, or any similar system by any other name, is equivalent to traditional plagiarism and not acceptable for any assignments in your course. I think you already did that.
  • Send a note to the entire class stating the same, and update your syllabus for the future.

That still leaves open the problem of what to do here. I would definitely consider the first offense as "forgiven". The second one, based on:

she had submitted the journal after the meeting in which I'd agreed to let her rewrite her essay

should get a 0. after is the key word here. If it was submitted before your meeting then the student could claim it should be forgiven as well. But "submitted the journal after the meeting" gets a 0. That is assuming you made it clear at the meeting that "using AI to complete an assignment is equivalent to copying from a human".

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  • 4
    Oh, man. I didn't even catch the "after" part. It's even worse than I thought. No idea why the OP wouldn't fail her right then and there.
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 24, 2023 at 5:07
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In my opinion, the answer lies in what you explicitly stated in a comment (emphasis mine):

The problem is that I already told her she could rewrite the AI essay. At that point, I didn't know that she had just submitted a plagiarized journal assignment. Her "explanation," after she'd been caught, was that when she submitted the plagiarized work, she didn't know she'd be able to rewrite the plagiarized essay. She gave no explanation as to why she didn't tell me about the second plagiarized submission when we met.

Although I believe we should act within the rules, I do not believe we should bind ourselves to a blind reading or execution of rules regarding cheating. In my opinion, we should judge the intention and figure out the deserved outcome, before we see how well we can achieve that outcome within the rules.

So, look at her intention in the simplest explanation of the facts you have already, especially the one I highlighted above. It is that she is trying her best to get away with what she can. You didn't know about her second instance of plagiarism, so she didn't tell you because she hopes you didn't notice it.

Therefore, she has attempted to cheat twice on separate occasions, where the second occasion is in deliberately concealing information about her second plagiarism that you had not noticed in your meeting with her. This suffices to justify a full penalty of the sort you stated in your post (i.e. withdraw or accept F for that course).

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    +1 Caught between the letter of the law and spirit/intent of the law ... do not believe we should bind ourselves to a blind reading or execution of rules regarding cheating. In my opinion, we should judge the intention and figure out the deserved outcome, before we see how well we can achieve that outcome within the rules. Apr 24, 2023 at 6:15
6

What you should do is stop playing nice with somebody who evidently has no problem with being dishonest. You already stated that you have a rule:

A student who plagiarizes twice will receive zeros for the assignments and may withdraw or take an F for the course.

All you have to do is apply it - I don't understand what you could possibly perceive as "tricky" here.

4

Here's my advice. Coincidentally, I'm in a similar position right now as last week I had to deal with my own first case of a student trying to surreptitiously use AI during an in-class test.

The OP and I both gave a partial waiver on the first offense. Now we regret it. This is common; when I decide to go lenient, the majority of the time I wind up regretting it later.

Nonetheless, we need to stick to our word on that waiver. This is for multifold reasons: simply honoring our word is important, if the student disputes it we're in a very weak position, etc. Hopefully this serves as a (painful) lesson to the instructor to do better next time; waiving formalized penalties is usually a short-term easy way out, but long-term a bad idea.

The second offense should now be treated as the first and receive a zero without further argument. Any later offense should be failing the course.

Probably someone could try to look at the specific language on the syllabus and try to legalistically argue the second offense is still course-failing, but I don't think that's robust enough to be worth the trouble.

Errors of different types were committed on both sides, and even if the student doesn't take the lesson, we as the instructor should.

3

If she is a student in good standing and you desperately want to somehow "de-escalate" the situation instead of applying the policy as written in the syllabus, just give her two-three hours to write a medium length essay on a different topic in a controlled environment. If she manages to do it well, then, at least, you'll know that she is capable of succeeding with this task on her own and for me that would be "sort of acceptable". If not, well, it is time to flunk someone then...

Downsides:

a) You'll lose two-three hours of your own time on proctoring outside your normal hours.

b) You'll create a precedent of deviating from the syllabus policy (though this late in the semester I doubt it will be easy to exploit by others).

c) You'll send the message to the student that it is OK to cheat if one can do what is required without cheating.

I have mixed feelings on the last one; in the American university culture cheating seems to be much more severely punished than in Russian one and the punishment is applied regardless of the student abilities, but, in my experience, at least modern American students cheat way more often than we cheated in 80's, so I'm not sure we aren't involved into some analogue of the infamous "war on drugs" here (I'm not saying that drugs should be legalized, even marijuana, I'm just saying that the approach should be way more sophisticated than just "jail everything that smokes"; the same with cheating/plagiarizing). I usually let my students to use whatever aids they want for take-home assignments as long as they can explain every step clearly when they submit it and they usually do not hide their sources and even cite most of them in return, but this is mathematics. You can do the same with essays (asking to elaborate on some passages or logical conclusions) but I admit that it may be more difficult there.

Under no circumstances would I do this for a student that shows low level of understanding of the course material in general or is of a "fighter for rights" or "whine your way through" type. The only way to deal with those is to apply all formal policies and procedures exactly to the letter. But if you believe that overall she is a bright student and a decent human being, you may try this approach.

Just my two cents.

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  • 2
    "If she is a student in good standing" This is clearly not the case. Apr 23, 2023 at 10:43
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    @curiousdannii Why? I've seen students with good GPA (obtained honestly) to cheat occasionally when under pressure or when the subject is one of their least favorite ones. The OP didn't give any information about the general student performance or did I miss something?
    – fedja
    Apr 23, 2023 at 13:00
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    Why? Because twice. That's why.
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 24, 2023 at 5:08
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    "if she is a student in good standing " to consider the general student conditions is useless. What if the student did cheat at every single exams, therefore being in a good standing, because of that? should they get condoned the only time that they got caught? There may be thousands reasons to cheat, there are 0 reasons to balance the punishment for cheating with knowing the reasons.
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 24, 2023 at 9:25
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    @EarlGrey * it is a voluntary choice.* To go to the university in general - yes, to take some particular courses - not always. Anyway, it is clear that my opinion is different from yours, which is by itself normal. I voiced mine, you commented, and I'm thankful to you for your comments: it is always interesting to know that someone reads what I write and to see a different point of view. I know that my point of view is controversial on top of coming from different culture and I guess the balance of up/down votes on my post reflects it fairly. Everybody chooses for themselves. :-)
    – fedja
    Apr 24, 2023 at 12:54
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There are many answers, but I'd like to re-emphasize one point from comments that may have been lost.

The student's reason is completely invalid. During or after the first meeting, she had the chance to admit the same cheating method for the second test, and ask for a redo. By not doing so, she willingly chose to hope you won't catch the second test, and as such committed a second cheating after the meeting.

No, she did not make an honest mistake in the second test.

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So far everybody assumes that this is cheating. However, you did not say why it is cheating, i.e., what rules were violated.

If you have a definition of cheating encompassing AI assisted writing you have a clear cut case and the consequences have been spelled out. If there is no such policy you are punishing a student who did nothing wrong according to the rules you gave.

I also wouldn't assume that there is a 'clear wrong' when using technology or assistants to improve speed and output.

  • Is using Google to find sources for your work cheating? This clearly speeds up your workflow (as opposed of going to the library) and possibly improves the overall result.
  • Is using a spellchecker cheating? Your actual spelling might be bad but suddenly you are flawless.
  • Is using a grammar/style checker cheating? Your grammar and style might be bad but suddenly you are writing flawless sentences.
  • Is asking a friend to comment on your work cheating? They might give you feedback you then incorporate, i.e., you include 'their' work.
  • Is hiring a proofreader cheating? They might substantially improve your output. Especially if English is your second language.

I would consider neither of the above cheating and I am afraid that AI assisted writing is simply the next step. I do understand and agree that this defeats the purpose of letting the student write. However, in that case the purpose of the exercise has to be clearly communicated ahead of time, and the rules have to be clear how much and what kind of help is allowed (and why).

Based on your telling the rules weren't clear and the student simply used the same tool twice before being informed she was doing something wrong. Forgetting that another assignment had been submitted already while being chewed out by the lecturer is somewhat understandable though an unfortunate mistake that she could have done without.

Edit: I misread the initial question and thought the second assignment was handed in before the meeting. Handing it in after the meeting changes the situation. As the student was aware that she was cheating and blatantly did so anyways, applying the cheating policy to its full effect seems appropriate.

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  • 2
    what rules were violated. Probably, the university academic policy has some exact provision even for that (though to foresee and to cover everything is quite a daunting task; that's why living wills saying "everything to my daughter" span 10 pages when written by a professional lawyer), but what was violated is just good old common sense and it is enough (for me, at least). If a student had started an argument with me along these lines, I would certainly placed him/her into one of the categories described in the end of my post and apply the regulations to the full extent :-)
    – fedja
    Apr 24, 2023 at 13:03
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    Good notice- I don’t think my class policies forbid AI explicitly. Very grey area.
    – Dawn
    Apr 24, 2023 at 22:35
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    "Forgetting that another assignment had been submitted already while being chewed out by the lecturer is somewhat understandable" - This is not what happened though. According to the OP, she didn't submit that assignment until after the meeting.
    – Guy G
    Apr 25, 2023 at 13:53
  • @GuyG I misread that. Thank you for telling me.
    – Sim
    Apr 26, 2023 at 10:03
-1

Warn Her Again

Based on the information that you have provided in the original question, the timeline could be something like this:

  1. The student submits the first paper.
  2. The student submits the second paper.
  3. You discover that the first paper was written using AI; you confront the student; the student asks to resubmit the first paper.
  4. You discover that the second paper was written using AI.

It is arguable (i.e. likely) that the student should have known that AI was not an acceptable method for writing their paper. However, providing this "new" information to the student should not aversely impact previously submitted works.

Take, for example, an incorrect citation in a student's paper. As the instructor, if you provided a correction prior to them submitting another paper that happens to use the same citation, then they should be punished for using the incorrect citation again; in this example, they had no excuse for not knowing that they had cited the source incorrectly. However, if you provided a corrected citation after they submitted another paper that happens to use the same citation, then they should be shown leniency; in this case, they didn't know that the citation that they had used was incorrect.

The situation that you describe is slightly different from the example above (because, as mentioned previously, the student should have known that AI was not an acceptable method for writing their paper) but the main principle still applies.
You should warn her again for the second paper. If any other papers are submitted with AI, then you have every right to give her an "F" for the course.

-3

This is about the worst case behaviour. Ordinary plagiarism means that you find a solution created by someone who is reasonable competent in the subject, and copy it, without attribution. (If I submitted an answer and told you "I found this on the internet, and it was written by XYZ" that wouldn't be plagiarism, but obviously my answer would have zero value academically). In a non-academic setting where all that counts is getting the right answer in a legal way, that would actually be just fine.

This student relied on answers written by an idiot with an extreme case of Dunning-Kruger symptom: Totally incompetent, and too stupid to realise they are incompetent. I have seen maths answers where after two lines I thought "WTF why would anyone do this?", and two lines further on "This can't be right" and "This is completely wrong". Things that are called "AIs" today completely lack the "I" component. They are very good at taking any old nonsense or just making it up and turning it into very convincing words. So a complete failure is 100% deserved.

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  • This doesn’t answer the question about what the OP should do.
    – user438383
    Apr 23, 2023 at 13:00
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    Also the attack on AI is not entirely justified: they are better than you describe. IMHO, they have passed the Turing test by now and are improving. If you compare with some speeches by politicians and administrators, I find the opuses created by ChatGPT more coherent and making more sense :-) Turning something "into very convincing words" is quite a difficult skill and many creative writing exercises test exactly that ability (there are few really novel things you can say about any widely discussed topic). But thanks for sharing your opinion :-)
    – fedja
    Apr 23, 2023 at 13:14
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    Supporting @fedja: Make sure you're not succumbing to publication bias around AI math failures. Having tested ChatGPT like that, I had to hunt pretty deeply into my discrete mathematics text (and be clever about picking stuff I thought might be a curve ball) before I could find something it faceplanted on, Apr 23, 2023 at 15:27
  • @fedja Only very recently have some AIs passed the Turing test w.r.t. to some people. For most people that have some clarity of mind and ability to reason, it is easy to distinguish these AIs from real people. If anything this serves as a reverse Turing test of sorts; these systems pass the Turing test w.r.t. to precisely the people they will soon replace.
    – Servaes
    Apr 23, 2023 at 23:06
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    @Servaes Yes, it happened only very recently. However ChatGPT can easily beat me on many topics unrelated to my area of expertise. As long as it doesn't start whining that it is "just a poor language assistant", I found it capable of maintaining quite a decent conversation despite the fact that when I tried it, it had no memory for its own lines and no access to internet or advanced computational resources. Of course, a lot of developers' time has been and will be wasted on compensating for general human stupidity and malevolence, but they are moving forward, believe it or not :-).
    – fedja
    Apr 24, 2023 at 0:00

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