Introduction to Artificial Intelligence Writing Tools:
I recently went in search of new writing tools. I wanted something more simple and stripped down than Google Docs. In my search, I stumbled into a strange world of artificial intelligence word processing. These apps claimed to write the majority of your essays, blog posts, or research papers for you, leaving you as a pilot guiding artificial intelligence. Hoping to understand what this technology might mean for education, I chose Jasper.Ai, widely recognized as the most sophisticated and best in the market.
As I plunged deeper into the topic of artificial intelligence writing tools, I realized that students all over the world were using tools like Jasper.Ai to write their research papers and essays. I became fascinated with the reality that artificial intelligence might completely reshape if not break our contemporary view of English classes at both the middle/high school and college levels.
Using Jasper.AI to Write an "Essay"
Having recently supported a student in writing an AP environmental science paper, on global climate change, I decided to see if Jasper.AI could have written a similar paper. Specifically, I chose to write a paper on the consequences of global climate change.
After filling out some basic information about the nature of the essay (see image), I was able to use Jasper.Ai to write an introduction on a brief history of global climate change. In the absence of artificial intelligence tools, this is typically how I would recommend a student begin writing a simple five-paragraph essay.
When prompted to write a brief history of global climate change, Jasper.Ai's artificial intelligence was able to write the following:
"The beginning of global warming can be traced back to the late 1800s when the Industrial Revolution began. Burning coal and oil to produce energy released large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This caused the Earth's temperature to rise, which in turn led to global warming."
While not the type of writing I might expect from a college student, I thought this output was very acceptable for high-school-level writing; I was generally impressed. Additionally, Jasper.Ai has plagiarism detection tools, so I felt confident that this writing was not merely a snippet from another copyrighted article.
To thoroughly ensure that no plagiarism or intellectual property theft occurred, I took the entire paragraph and searched it on Google. Sure enough, this was not an exact replica of anything that had ever been written before.
This posed an interesting intellectual challenge to my personal notion of plagiarism. We often think of plagiarism as a "theft of someone else's ideas, specifically in the absence of one's own." Now, however, we have an absence of one's own ideas, because they are sourced from artificial intelligence; however, we are not actually stealing intellectual property from another human.
I continued my five-paragraph essay by manually writing my own thesis statement:
"If left unchecked, the consequences of global climate change could be countless; however, three particularly salient problems we as a society would face include the destruction of coastal property, increased cost of food, and decreased water quality."
I chose to manually write the thesis statement (instead of letting Jasper.Ai write it) because I wanted to have control over determining the "3 Salient problems." I'm sure the A.I. would have been more than happy to have chosen a thesis for me.
Having completed my thesis, I let Jasper.Ai get back to work. Prompting Jasper to write my first "body paragraph," the artificial intelligence writing algorithm produced the following paragraph.
Body Paragraph #1
"Destruction of coastal property would be one major consequence of global climate change. As the Earth's temperature rises, the ice caps melt and cause sea levels to rise." This puts low-lying coastal areas at risk for flooding and other damage from severe weather events. According to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100." This would have a devastating impact on coastal communities around the world. In the United States alone, it is estimated that "by 2030, rising seas will threaten $1 trillion in property and displace 13 million people."
I was immediately struck by a few elements of this paragraph. First, Jasper.Ai had managed not only to add complete sentences, but it had managed to also include something of a citation (two specifically). Having some background in artificial intelligence, I felt confident A.I. would be able to write complete sentences; however, that it was also able to do some form of rudimentary research (and citation) was frankly shocking. I was most fascinated by the fact that Jasper.Ai was able to not only find relevant supporting evidence, but it was able to attribute the evidence's source. At this point, however, I was still not confident that the fact was correct or, maybe more importantly, that they were properly attributed.
Hoping to ensure that Jasper.Ai was not simply making up facts, I began with a Google search "Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100."
Checking Artificial Intelligence Citations
In searching the above quote with an "exact string match" in google (searching only for results that perfectly fit the text), I was able to find six instances of this quote. Specifically, it seems that this quote was actually sourced from a February 13, 2013 briefing for the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by Dr. Donald Wuebbles, Professor and Atmospheric Scientist, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois. More specifically, the research used in Dr. Weubble's statements was sourced from A 20th-century acceleration in global sea-level rise a 2006 article by John A. Church - Church, John A., and Neil J. White. "A 20th-century acceleration in global sea-level rise." Geophysical research letters 33, no. 1 (2006). Needless to say, this quote was certainly not lifted directly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does write about sea-level rise, generally, the quote cannot be attributed to them. Students working with Jasper.AI technology will need to be incredibly careful to ensure that all of their direct quotes are properly sourced and attributed; you can read more on this in the "notes for teachers" section below.
The Jasper.Ai artificial intelligence yielded the following as our next body paragraph:
Body Paragraph #2
"In addition to the destruction of property, global climate change would also lead to increased cost of food. As the Earth's temperature rises, it creates a number of problems for agriculture. Extreme weather events like droughts and floods become more common, which can damage crops. Pests and diseases are also able to spread more easily in warmer climates. All of these factors lead to decreased crop yields and higher food prices. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 'by 2050, global crop yields could decline by 2% per decade as a result of climate change.'"
Once again, we have an incorrect citation, namely the statistic associated with the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change. I was not able to find this exact statistic used in any IPPC work; however, this statistic does seem to be a widely agreed-upon number.
This is yet again a situation where students need to be incredibly careful not to leave this artificial intelligence-generated citation in his or her paper. Instead, the student should opt to see this as an example of a hypothetical citation they could include, and instead find an actual citation in the literature and cite it properly.
Our last "body paragraph" yielded the following:
Body Paragraph #3
Finally, another major consequence of global climate change is decreased water quality. Warmer temperatures lead to increased evaporation, which means that there is less fresh water available for drinking, irrigation, and other uses. In addition, warmer temperatures also lead to more algae growth in lakes and rivers. This can lead to decreased water quality and even create toxic algal blooms that are dangerous for humans and animals.
This artificial intelligence paragraph doesn't include any incorrect citations (or any citations for that matter). I would encourage my students to use this type of output as "just the beginning," offering a bit of inspiration for the final section of the paper (an opportunity to let go of some writer's block). I would not consider this paragraph to be detailed enough or specific enough on its own, and I would therefore encourage students to continue researching climate change and its link to water quality. Once a student had completed additional research, I would encourage the student to rewrite the artificial intelligence-generated paragraph by integrating his or her own citations.
The Jasper.Ai artificial intelligence generated "conclusion paragraph" was the following:
Global climate change is a major problem that we face as a society. If we do not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences will be catastrophic. We must act now to protect our planet for future generations. The three main points of this essay are the destruction of coastal property, increased cost of food, and decreased water quality. These are all major problems that we would face if global climate change is not stopped.
Once again, the paragraph contains no citations. Like the third body paragraph, it is also relatively sparse for details. That said, itt does to a decent job about concluding the essay and closing out the arguments. Once again, I would encourage students to use this as inspiration for what a conclusion paragraph might look like in terms of structure and general content. As always, students should do their own research to make sure these statements are actually accurate.
Notes to Students
To any students reading this article, I would advise you to be careful and curious when using artificial intelligence writing software. careful because so many of our current professions demand constant writing. if you are passively engaging with the writing process, allowing artificial intelligence to write your entire essay, you won't ever improve in your writing and you will make yourself fairly useless in most white-collar careers.
As you can see, from both my video and the section above, artificial intelligence (just like humans) makes lots of mistakes when it writes! If you never learn how to write and edit for yourself, you will never be able to effectively use artificial intelligence.
I would encourage you to think about working with artificial intelligence just like you would think about working with a friend on homework. When Jasper.Ai outputs a paragraph, think of it as simply asking a friend "hey how would you write this paragraph." You would never want to submit your friend's paragraph as your own work. Instead, you'd want to look at the paragraph, suggest edits, modify sentences, and add citations that you felt were exciting.
Remember that at the end of the day the point of school is to learn skills that will make you more successful in anything that you want to do. accordingly, if you find yourself ever using any technology simply as a way of "getting around" an assignment, you are missing an opportunity to improve yourself and your future.
Notes to Teachers
Many teachers are incredibly frustrated about artificial intelligence entering their classrooms, and justifiably so. Artificial intelligence stands to fully subvert the intention hard-working teachers have in helping their students improve. I would encourage teachers to begin by being transparent with their students, explaining that these Technologies do exist, but the goal of all assignments in class is to improve our skills so that we can achieve our goals. No matter what goal we want to pursue, writing will be critically important. You can share the following with your students:
- "If you want to be a professional athlete, you need to know how to review and edit contracts and endorsement deals to maximize how much you earn."
- "If you want to be a fashion designer, you need to know how to right about your work to gain media attention and influence."
- "If you want to be a billionaire banker, you will need to know how to read and write in detail about businesses."
- "If you want to be an influencer you will need to write incredibly convincing sales copy to endorse products."
If you find any students who are convinced that their profession will not require them to have any independent writing skills please have them leave a comment on this article or on the YouTube video; I would love to thoroughly discuss the matter with them.
A surefire way to stop your students from mindlessly copy-pasting artificial intelligence writing output is to require detailed MLA citations. As I demonstrated in the first section, artificial intelligence is able to write sentences; however, it's not able to do research and synthesize ideas.
Instructing students to craft an entire Essay with artificial intelligence, and then go back retroactively adding citations and editing the writing, could be a very useful assignment.
When working with students on writing, I often find that the biggest barrier they face is an unwillingness to edit their own work. Generally, this is out of pride. Students aren't comfortable with the idea that their sentences might not have been perfect the first time. However, if students are able to edit work generated by artificial intelligence, they will not suffer the same "ego hit," while learning to become talented editors.