Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Cheating with AI?

I saw an article about a teacher who got an essay from a student that was well-written. Maybe too-well written. Turns out the student used an AI to write it, and turned it in as their own work. The teacher (and the article) predicted massive changes to how school work is assigned, performed, and evaluated.

I'm not sure I understand why.

Cheat Your Way Through School?

Cheating has always been with us. When I was a student, that consisted of copying (verbatim or paraphrasing) from magazines, encyclopedias, or the smart kid in a different class. And while many kids got caught, many others did not. Teachers used to tell us that cheating didn't actually help us prepare for our futures, but kids are too now-focused to understand or care about that. We just knew that our parents would take away our TV privileges if we got a bad report card, so some kids cheated.

The Internet supposedly changed all that since it became trivially easy to cheat. As though lowering the effort would open the floodgates. But it didn't. Sure, you can buy essays on-line now, which makes it easier to cheat, but most kids still don't.

And now AI is about to change all that since it is even more trivially easy (and cheaper) to cheat.

I don't buy it. Cheaters are going to cheat, and it's not obvious to me that making it easier and cheaper to cheat will make a lot more kids into cheaters. 

Cheat Your Way Through Career?

And besides, why do we care? If cheaters make it all the way through college with much higher grades than are deserved, they will more-or-less reach their true level when they start their careers. I've had to fire some programmers who I wonder whether they ever wrote a line of code in their lives. Did they cheat their way through school? Or did the schools just do a bad job of preparing programmers? I don't know, and I don't care. I managed to hire some excellent programmers in spite of getting a few duds. And I suspect the same basic pattern exists in most careers.

I'll focus my discussion on the career of computer programming, but I suspect many of the concepts will apply to other careers.

Maybe the AIs are getting so good that a poor programmer that is good at cheating will produce just as good results as the excellent programmer down the hall. How is that fair? And does it even matter?

My programmers take poorly-described requirements and figure out what the user needs, and then figure out how to incorporate those needs into our existing product. Cheaters can't do that even if they have a great AI at their disposal.

In fact, even that is not what my senior programmers do. They figure out what our users want before the users do. When 29West was just getting started (2003-ish), I don't think there was such a thing as a brokerless general pub-sub messaging system. The financial services industry wanted low latency, but also wanted the flexibility of pub-sub. The idea 29West came up with was to combine peer-to-peer with reliable multicast and the pub-sub model. Figuring out how to do that required dreaming up new ways of doing things. Even if a really good AI existed back then, it would not have been trained on it.

I guess what I'm saying is that the most advanced AI technology available today is still based on the concept of training the AI with a lot of examples. It will be able to report the state of the art, but I can't see it advancing the state of the art. 

When Does Cheating Stop Being Cheating?

There was a period of time when I was in school when we couldn't use a calculator during a math test. You had to do the arithmetic by hand (and show your work). I suspect that still exists for a month or two when kids first learn what arithmetic is, but I suspect that calculators are now standard issue for even very young students. Is that bad?

I remember hearing people complain. "What if your batteries die? How will the supermarket employee add up your total?" Today, if a store's cash register goes down, commerce stops. And it's not because the employees can't do sums in their heads.

I also remember when poor spelling and grammar were impediments to career advancement. I guess it still is -- if you send me an email with lots of misspellings, I will think a little less of you. With spelling checkers built right into the email client, what's your excuse for not using it? (My mother-in-law used to disapprove of modern schooling where Latin is no longer a required subject. Her point was that learning Latin made you better at spelling. My point is, why bother?)

Remember cursive writing? Does anybody under 30 still use it? Do we still need to be good at shoeing horses? Starting fires with two sticks?

Do we really need everybody to be good at writing essays? Maybe it's time to consign that to the computer as well.

And yes, I know that writing essays is supposed to be a tool for exercising research skills and critical thinking. But is it really? Isn't the essay more of a measurement tool? I.e. if you did a good job of researching and thinking critically, then supposedly that will be reflected in the quality of your essay. But does that really work?

I don't know. And I've definitely strayed out of my area of expertise; I'll stop mansplaining now.


I cut and pasted this post into ChatGPT and asked it to rewrite it better. It certainly shortened it, and included most of my main points. But it also missed a few points I consider important. And it made it a lot more boring, IMO. Then again, I always have liked to hear myself speak, so I'm biased.

No comments: