Durable Human (2 book series)

How AI and Writing Can Co-Exist

Young girl looks intently at computer screen perhaps contemplating using an AI suggestion in her writing

With the arrival of ChatGPT, one of the biggest worries in education is if students will ever be honest again. Victor Lee of Stanford Graduate School of Education has seen new data on the practice of cheating. His bottom line: “Pandora’s box didn’t get opened.”

The non-profit Challenge Success education research group polled kids at 3 different types of high schools. Cheating remains at about the same hefty rate it was before chatbots: about 60%. Among public school kids, the cheating rate has even dropped a little.

Regarding ChatGPT and writing, turns out that students—like all of us—know about the chatbot, but many choose not to use it.

As Lee told the Children and Screens Digital Media and Developing Minds Scientific International Congress, “Students do know about it, but they are exercising restraint.”

At this point, students mainly use a chatbot to get started on a paper or make a summary. As Lee says, “It might help [students] write an abstract, but not the entire paper.

How Students Can Write with AI

Much-respected linguist Naomi Baron followed Lee’s setup at Children and Screens. The American University emerita professor is not too pessimistic. She believes humans can be thoughtful as well as sentient.

The key is “to think about writing and why we do it,” as she tells her students. ChatGPT can be part of the process.

Baron comes from a position of respect: that students who have basic writing skills will have enough self-respect they won’t automatically hand over their expressive capabilities to the large language overlords.

5 Considerations for Writing with AI

Baron has 5 areas to consider when it comes to using AI in the writing process:

Effort. How much do you want to expend? It can work for you to accept an auto-suggestion. Time is a precious commodity and AI can help you to save it.  

Trust. How much confidence do you have in what GPT writes for you? Baron wants students to understand that AI tools can be wrong and have been shown to make stuff up. She warns against having automation bias—the notion that everything automated is right. “Trust but verify,” she advises.

Skill-building. Do AI tools like Grammarly truly improve your writing? Almost certainly if English is not your first language. But for native speakers, Baron’s watchword is: “If you accept auto-corrects without thinking, you don’t learn anything.” De-skilling is real. By deferring to a writing tool, she reminds that you have less writing practice. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Voice. Does AI compromise your writing voice? The writing output of ChatGPT is a homogenization of all writing it has ever ingested, which can boil down to something safe and bland. “Automation can stop us thinking,” says Baron. “It can remove your artistic voice and make it less interesting.” You risk feeling disconnected from your own words and ideas.

Commitment. How much do you care about what you’re writing? Does what you say matter to you? To help determine when and how much to use automated tools, Baron divides the stakes of writing into 3 categories:

Examples of low-stakes writing are simple, predictably-worded emails or texts where the wording is suggested. Here, autocorrect is your friend.

Medium-stakes writing has your name on it. You want some pride in authorship, if only because someone else may check your words for validity and precision.

With high-stakes writing, you actually care about what you write and what you mean. You want to express yourself from your heart, not from the output of a cold machine. Though GPT cranks them out beautifully, you want your love poem or love letter to be from you.

Keepin’ It Human

Lee and Baron have no doubt that AI writing tools are here to stay, but an all-out takeover is not inevitable. In Baron’s words, “We have ways to limit it.”

The reality is that we are human beings. Each of us has our own unique thoughts and ideas. Writing becomes a matter of human pride. By continuing to think and practice your writing, you honor your precious unique self and act to keep your skills durable and long-lasting.  

About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a veteran TV news writer and adjunct professor of broadcast and digital journalism. She founded DurableHuman.com and is also an author and certified digital wellness educator. See her books here.

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