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ChatGPT: Helpful Tool or Brain Spoiler?

We are nearing a year since the birth of ChatGPT, and with the accelerated growth of technology, more and more companies have produced their own AI chatbots, the most notable ones being Microsoft’s Bing Chat (February 2023), Google’s Bard (March 2023), and Perplexity by Aravind Srinivas (August 2023). Each chatbot has its own strengths such as writing, STEM knowledge, or source citing, but they all share their use of AI. ChatGPT itself has also improved, and its newest multimodal model GPT-4 (March 2023) available for ChatGPT Plus users accepts both image and text inputs. Compared to the older GPT-3.5 model, GPT-4 boasts a much larger database of 100 trillion parameters, which allows it to be 40% more factually correct and solve more difficult problems by using advanced reasoning; furthermore, the model displays improvements in its ability to adopt different tones, build educational lessons, and detect fraud. Below is a comparison of the two models’ performances on various standardized tests.

Clearly, this technology has advanced quite a bit since last November, and with these advancements has come the increasingly prevalent employment of AI in various fields and businesses. One example is Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, which used to house its knowledge and insights of investment and analysis in a large collection of long pdfs, now has its own internal-facing chatbot that uses GPT-4 to search content then summarize it for employees. Now, advisors can get the insight they need almost instantly. On the other side of the spectrum, the nonprofit organization KhanAcademy explores GPT-4’s abilities in the educational field with its new AI-powered assistant, Khanmigo. This assistant can function as a virtual tutor or a classroom assistant by responding to queries with human-like answers. Similar to MyStemHelp, it uses questions to prompt the student to think for themselves instead of revealing the answers immediately.

This new artificial intelligence wave is eclipsing Alexas and Siris, and the tool’s potential power grows greater with each day. However, as the great Winston Churcill and Spiderman’s Aunt May have said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The powerful nature of AI can present unpleasant consequences, and its rapid growth poses new ethical questions. Every so often, I come across convincing AI generated images or song covers. Though humorous in nature, many generate controversy and scandals out of thin air. As more powerful AI and inventions surface, our lives begin to parallel dystopian sci-fi films such as Ready Player One and Black Mirror. This begs the question, Should we use AI tools like ChatGPT?

Well, the answer isn’t at all just black or white. A more appropriate question is, How should I utilize AI such as ChatGPT? Yes, that’s right. We’re telling you to go try it out! Unlike sites such as SparkNotes or Shmoop, ChatGPT’s website is not blocked at several local schools including my own; in fact, many of these institutions embrace it as a helpful device, and there’s a good reason for this. Instead of being a site that inhibits brain use or spits out answers in place of one’s creativity or ideas, ChatGPT can serve as one of the most powerful learning tools, especially for STEM. There’s rationality behind the use of AI in such successful organizations, and it’s because when used right, ChatGPT can save time. Everything just depends on the prompt you feed it. There are many cases in which you should not use the chatbot, which I’ll highlight later in this article, but first, here are some tips we have to guide you on your AI journey.

Summarize Concepts in a Concise Manner

As students enter middle school, high school, and college, the time they’re given to complete each assignment isn’t enough. You may find that after completing your extracurricular activities, spending time with friends and family, or playing a sport, there just aren't that many hours left to get going on those math problems. Often, students are left to finish their work by cutting into their precious sleeping time. That’s why efficiency is so important, and lucky enough, one of the main purposes of ChatGPT is to save time. Just like the employees in Morgan Stanley, you can use the website to ask questions such as “Explain each step of cellular respiration” or “What are some themes in To Kill a Mockingbird.” In addition, you can specify parameters such as word count or explanation depth to further fit your needs. Many of my college friends do this a lot, since it is not a way to cheat out of an assignment, but rather an opportunity to learn quickly and concisely. Say you miss a day of class or are behind on a lecture. ChatGPT is there for you to analyze content across the web and generate a condensed explanation, preserving main ideas and answering all your important questions!

Prompt: “Give me an overview of what Calculus is in about 150 words”

Seek Inspiration

Another way to use this tool is by seeking inspiration for a topic. Oftentimes, students procrastinate writing their essays and spend lots of time staring at a blank outline because they have trouble coming up with an idea. Instead of procrastinating, you can use prompts such as, “I need to write a paper for my Modern World History class. Give me 10 possible topics with events ranging from 1500 CE to 1945 CE” to generate some ideas. If you want to take it a step further, you can ask ChatGPT to write an outline for your topic. Since the chatbot responds directly to your prompt, it will spit out a dry outline that you can build on. Additionally, you can ask to find a number of peer-reviewed articles on your topic. Now you have a reference list that you can easily check out and cite for your essay! Finally, you can insert your paper into the prompt, then ask ChatGPT to come up with compelling titles that relate to your paper. ChatGPT is fallible, though, so be sure to check your outline, sources, and titles to see if they really have to do with your topic before going through with its suggestion.

Prompt: “Write me an outline for a 3 page paper on the impact of the Enlightenment in Europe”

Daily Life

A third instance of ChatGPT’s functionality is its use in everyday life. Whether it be organizing a road trip or summer vacation, or writing a formal email, ChatGPT can serve as a great baseline for you to work from.

Prompt: “Give me an itinerary for a two-day vacation in France, with a budget of $1000”

(The day 2 itinerary is not shown because of its length)

Despite all of its functionality, ChatGPT does have some shortcomings. For example, asking ChatGPT to complete your homework is always a bad idea. Not only does it inhibit your ability to use your brain, but it can also make some obvious mistakes since it’s not meant for calculations. During test time, a continuous use of the AI chatbot may result in a lack of understanding, contributing to poor grades in school. Furthermore, there are now many AI content checkers that can check if an AI has written your entire piece. Stick with AI for outlines and inspiration, not for content — you come up with that yourself. Lastly, since ChatGPT scouts the web for sources, the answers it generates may contain some wrong information from unreliable sources. Especially when working with important information such as health questions and personal decisions, do not solely rely on ChatGPT. Constantly double check your work with other secure sources, and do not share any sensitive information on the site. ChatGPT is not always friendly, for there is already major controversy regarding its ability to generate malware, software that disrupts or damages a computer system.

In conclusion, ChatGPT is what you make of it. It can boost your learning or inhibit your abilities depending on your command. Keep your eyes appealed for new technology as well. In more recent news, Apple has announced the development of its new piece of technology called the Apple Vision Pro, and it’s set to be released in early 2024. Despite its good intentions and new features, the concept of being able to wear mixed reality goggles all the time for greater convenience is a little frightening. With technology advancing further with every year, ethical questions regarding its use will continue to be raised . When the time comes, think back to this article and make your own good decisions. Knowing how to use new tech is the way to go.

Written by Ben Wu

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