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The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Don’t let ChatGPT think for you

Aruna Muthupillai

Editor’s note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

As an educator, I fear ChatGPT will do students’ thinking for them. Except for the really basic stuff, I know my students will forget most of what they learn. Nevertheless, I hope to give them a chance to practice various important ways to think things through, where I can support them and correct their mistakes. I fear ChatGPT significantly diminishes my ability to give students that opportunity.

Thinking things through is exhausting and can make us feel insecure, lost, or confused. Thus there are always people who offer us the convenience of their doing some of the thinking for us. Such offers have a mixed record: your doctor, say, really knows their stuff and gives the unvarnished truth, or a reasonable guess. But sometimes we’re lulled into thoughtlessness by demagogues or advertising agencies.

Instead of individuals, we can go with the crowd, what the majority thinks. Sometimes there really is wisdom in popular thinking, like when passions run low and the stakes run high. But we’re all familiar with cases where people give into biases and prejudices that lead them away from the truth.

There’s another problem with following the crowd: you won’t get practice thinking things through yourself. Many questions are low stakes, so it can be convenient to just go with the prevailing view. Often it’s correct and, when it’s not, it’s available and socially comfortable. But just as in sports you practice in low-stakes situations to be ready for high-stakes ones, so you must think through things in low-stakes situations to be ready for high-stakes ones. There will come a time when you’ll suffer if you’re not good at thinking. You might make a thoughtless choice that costs you big, or need to understand something but be unable.

ChatGPT is, it seems to me, an average of its training texts, roughly the internet. So when you let ChatGPT do your thinking for you, you are letting the average of the internet do your thinking for you.

It’s going with the crowd, with the two disadvantages from before. First, it will regurgitate biases and prejudices from its training data. Sometimes you’ll catch it doing this, but sometimes you won’t. Those biases may come to seem normal or authoritative, since you are putting your name on and submitting them.

And you won’t get practice piecing together reasons, information, and values into a coherent thought.

Of course, ChatGPT has some legitimate uses that won’t threaten our ability to think. I won’t learn more programming soon, so using ChatGPT for basic programming help doesn’t harm me. Some say you should use ChatGPT as a starting point to build from. This puts you into supervisory or editorial roles that involve important kinds of thinking, but starting fresh and coming up with initial ideas does, too.

If an assignment isn’t trivial, don’t use ChatGPT for it. It does not typically help you think better; it helps you think less.

As professors, we must be supportive coaches who train you in thinking. Class must be an engaging process where students see results in their ability to think. If you come to think of what we’re offering as just a credential or a networking opportunity, we will have failed. 

Letting others do your thinking for you will always look convenient. We have to ensure students see our classes as worthwhile opportunities to become better thinkers. Students are smart, so we must make them worthwhile opportunities.

Drucker is an assistant professor of philosophy at UT.

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About the Contributor
Aruna Muthupillai, Opinion Illustrator
Aruna is a Plan II Honors and International Relations freshman from Pearland, TX. Currently, she works as an opinion illustrator. Outside of working for the Daily Texan, she’s involved in various political campaigns/organizations and enjoys eating pho.