With the introduction of artificial intelligence applications such as ChatGPT, academic plagiarism has become a pandemic for high schools, colleges, and graduate schools around the world. It’s easy to see why: having a computer write a paper is much simpler than taking the time to write one’s own. Weighing the relative unlikelihood of being caught, some students simply take the risk. This appears to be a great system for dishonest students around the world. But here is a prediction: as a society, the results of this AI (Artificial Intelligence) pandemic will be terrible. In fact, it will lead to economic recessions and even various kinds and forms of depression.
Artificial Intelligence is a Big Problem
In March of this year, BestColleges conducted a survey among one thousand college and graduate students in an effort to determine the prevalence and influence of artificial intelligence. Among the thousand, forty-three percent of college students admitted to using ChatGPT or similar programs for their “assignments, exams, or related schoolwork.” Among that group, the numbers are pretty staggering. Half the students answered, “I use AI for some parts of an assignment but complete the majority myself.” Thirty percent answered, “I use AI to complete the majority of the assignment but revise as needed.” Seventeen percent answered, “I use AI to complete an assignment and then turn it in as is, with no edits.” In an ironic smidgeon of honesty, three percent of the students answered, “I prefer not to say.”
Based on this study, if we take them at their word (which we would have good reason to believe was significantly understated), nearly a quarter of all the college students in America are having ChatGPT do the “majority” or the entirety of their work.
But it is not just college and graduate students; teachers are noticing that grade schoolers and high schoolers are using AI, too. And many of them have serious concerns. A recent study cited by Education Week asked educational professionals this question: “In your view, what kind of impact will artificial intelligence platforms such as ChatGPT have on K-12 teaching and learning over the next five years?” Forty-seven percent of the responders answered either “very negative” or “somewhat negative.”
Their comments provided an explanation for their answers. One teacher opined, “Technology is hindering students’ ability to think critically and mathematically. They think the computer should find the answers for them.” A district administrator related, “Students are having many more mental health issues which stem partly from technology/social media. AI will only make this worse; students need to accomplish things on their own to feel proud and build confidence.” Another teacher brilliantly observed, “AI just makes it even easier for students to gain answers without gaining knowledge.”
Answers without knowledge. That might be the best description of academic AI that I have ever seen.
Cheating Everybody with Artificial Intelligence
When I was growing up, I heard people say things like, “When you cheat, you’re really only cheating yourself.” While that saying is incomplete, it is certainly true that you are cheating yourself. God blessed you with an intellect, but you simply decided not to use it—opting instead for ChatGPT. The academic years offer a powerful opportunity to increase your knowledge, explore your creativity, and hone your powers of logic and reason. Yet, you opt out—simply letting a computer take your place.
So yes, you are most certainly cheating yourself—but that is not all: you are also cheating everyone else in your class. Why? Because even if they are trying very hard not to do so, teachers grade papers on a somewhat relative basis. That is, your paper will be graded in relation to the other submitted papers.
To illustrate the point, imagine the following scenario.
Ten Civics papers are submitted. Nine of the papers were plagiarized from legal websites and journals. Technically, these nine papers are really excellent, employing exceptional legal reasoning, so each of them is given an A+. The tenth paper was written by a girl named Veronica, who did not plagiarize. Instead, Veronica spent eighty hours assembling her research, writing, and rewriting. Of course, her paper is markedly inferior to the other nine papers. (After all, how could Veronica’s paper reasonably compete with those written by sitting judges, Constitutional lawyers, and third-year law students?) So, the Civics teacher gives Veronica a B-. Nine students cut and pasted their way to an A+, and she worked very hard to achieve a B-. Veronica is the best, the brightest, and the only honest student in the class. Yet, she received the worst grade. If this happens enough, she will miss out on her chance for a sorely needed academic scholarship for college.
From a moral perspective, it becomes rather easy to see why plagiarism is a sin against justice. Consider what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about cheating in reference to games: “Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.” Upon reading this, some people might argue with me, insisting that such damage of plagiarism is “slight” and that the cheating is “insignificant.” But don’t tell me; tell Veronica.
A Utilitarian Argument Against the Use of Artificial Intelligence
Of course, some students won’t care to think this through. But they should consider a utilitarian argument that drives home the point even further. Years back, I read a story about a ghostwriter who wrote not only other people’s college papers for them but also master's and doctoral dissertations. He noted that he had ghostwritten for many different professions, including theology students. As irony goes, that’s pretty thick: a man obtains a degree in theology by fraud. But the ghostwriter mentioned something else: much of his writing was done for nursing students. Considering the fact that nurses have the jobs of reading medical charts, drawing blood, and administering pharmaceuticals, that’s a bit chilling. Again, is the damage slight? Is the cheating insignificant? If your mother is sick, would you mind her being seen by a doctor or nurse who cheated his way through medical school? I sure would.
If you are on trial, would you prefer to be defended by a lawyer who plagiarized her way through law school? Personally, I’d rather be defended by Veronica, who spent eighty hours on her Civics paper. She fought for her grade in high school; now, she will fight for me.
“But it’s just a short essay for one little class,” some would argue. When I hear this argument, I think back to about twenty years ago when I visited my dentist’s office. The dentist told me that one of my molars needed a root canal and a crown. The proposed price was very expensive, so I asked him, “Can’t you just pull the tooth instead?”
He answered, “Yes, I can pull it. But if you decide to do that, you’ll pull the next problem tooth, too. And again, and again. Pretty soon, you’ll have no teeth.” I think real life, especially the spiritual life, works that way too. If you pull the virtue of honesty from your soul, that is horrifying enough. But pretty soon, you will have no virtues.
Artificial Intelligence Forms a Barrier
Many years ago, Aristotle observed that wonder is the beginning of philosophy. We can go even further and observe that Aristotle’s scholastic appeal to wonder caused a boom in philosophy. But the same is true for other fields. Galileo caused a boom in astronomy. Adam Smith caused a boom in economics. Edison caused a boom in invention. Fleming caused a boom in healthcare.
In many important respects, artificial intelligence forms a barrier—even an antithesis—to wonder. In a world of artificial intelligence, we need to champion wonder and human intelligence. Whatever steps the academic world takes, it must address this problem with great seriousness, and it must happen soon. For if we do not, we will eventually become a world governed by computers.
And we will wonder how it all happened.