An article in the Guardian this week, addressed the idea that AI-generated essays might become a Thing, and that teachers would find an AI essay hard to spot because it would be on a different level to those commonly downloaded ones. There followed a raft of people on the socials signing up to the AI writing thing and posting examples of its poetry, or its somewhat dogmatic opinions about The Beatles.
My own opinion is that it’s nonsensical to think that it would be hard to detect. Students in the age group I teach often hand in such rubbish that you wonder if they themselves are even human. It’s not so much “the dog ate my homework” as “the dog wrote my homework”. And you can always spot the plagiarism because suddenly there’s a passage that doesn’t read like it was written by a 17 year old who hasn’t used a capital letter in their life, except under duress. A few years ago, there was an essay handed in that had been plagiarised from multiple sources and then kind of glued together (but incoherently). Not only did none of it add up or make sense, but the student concerned hadn’t bothered to change the fonts in the copy-pasted text, so the essay concerned had four different typefaces.
No doubt, the person concerned is being lined up as candidate for a Conservative safe seat as I write.
Honestly, I reckon the amount of work you’d have to do to generate and then edit an AI essay would be more than you’d have to do in just writing the thing. I’m reminded of George Costanza in Seinfeld, desperately trying to maintain his unemployment benefits. In his standup routine in the episode, Jerry says,
“I have a friend who’s unemployed. He’s collecting unemployment insurance. This guy has never worked this hard in his life to keep this thing going. He’s down there every week waiting on the lines and getting interviewed and making up all these lies about looking for jobs. If they had any idea the effort and energy that he is expending to avoid work, I’m sure they’d give him a raise. I’m sure of it. The guy is doing a tremendous job… not working.”
And this is the student who plagiarises. So much work goes into the sourcing and the copying and pasting, they might as well just write the damn essay. And given the quality of the garbage AI-generated web content out there in the world, I don’t think there’s any danger of an AI producing an essay that didn’t need heavy editing to make it halfway convincing.
Anyway, who cares? They’re only cheating themselves. The world is full of people who don’t deserve to be where they are. It’s The Great Gatsby all the way down: everybody is cheating. And who am I to tell students that they won’t get anywhere in life through cheating?