There are machine-based online technologies that can write, code, create images and audio and even make videos almost as well as we can. And recently, many of these systems became publicly available.
They’re called generative artificial intelligence systems and they’re relatively easy to use, only requiring some basic prompting from humans.
ChatGPT is one of the most famous generative AI systems. Anna Marbut, University of San Diego applied artificial intelligence professor, explained how the program works: "You say ‘Hi ChatGPT. How are you doing today?’ And ChatGPT produces probability for many different responses and then picks basically the highest probability response.”
It's only been out since November, but already has more than 100 million users, including many high school and college students.
“I would say students who are actively using it at least maybe for one assignment a week — probably a third to a half,” University of California, San Diego (UCSD) senior Manu Agni said.
The former UCSD student body president said many students won't admit to using the AI tools because they feel guilty or are unsure if it will get them in trouble.
In fact, UC San Diego sent a letter to students about artificial intelligence systems. “Basically they said if a professor isn't explicitly allowing it, it's not allowed. It's considered cheating," Agni said.
He said some UCSD professors have kept it banned, while others have given it a partial or full green light.
Regardless of their classroom application, Marbut said the text-based systems are far from perfect — even though they can sound convincingly human.
“The model can give ... answers that they are actually not supposed to give,” she said. “They've also been trained to not give harmful answers to questions, but you can trick them depending on how you prompt them.”
Generative AI is also causing a stir in the art world. Some local artists like beck haberstroh apply the technology in their work, but there is controversy over the way the systems are used.
“They’re trained oftentimes on the work of artists or writers who are not being credited or compensated for that work,” Haberstroh said. “To me, that's a concern with how these kinds of programs might impact the arts community broadly speaking.”
Other local artists like Adrian Huth are using generative AI programs like DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney to create digital images. In Huth's case, he takes those images and interprets them into physical paintings.
Meanwhile, Haberstroh’s works often question the ethics of the fast-growing technology through performance pieces and art installations.
“Who's well represented, who's not represented? Who's made more visible by them, who's made less visible by them? I think there's a lot of potential for exploitation the more and more that we use these programs,” Haberstroh said.
UCSD’s Agni compares the current quality of ChatGPT’s writing to a “talented sophomore in high school,” but he said it notably can't do citations just yet.
Still, Agni said, its use goes beyond the classroom.
“For college application essays, for applications to graduate school, job applications, scholarships, writing samples for a creative job — this thing has infinite uses,” he said.
Marbut said rules and regulations for generative AI will be key, as the technology is here to stay.
But she did want to clarify one thing to people who are wary or scared about the so-far unregulated technology: “I don't think that we as a society need to be worried about general artificial intelligence at this point. I think we're still a long ways off from that,” Marbut said.
While UC San Diego warns against using generative AI without explicit permission, Agni sees it as a tool rather than cheating. Plus, he said there's pressure to embrace the technology or risk falling behind.
“I mean, I don't use it to complete assignments, but certainly when I've had writer's block or when I've needed some inspiration on a topic — it's too tempting,” Agni said.
Huth echoed similar sentiments, and said it would be limiting to go back to his older forms of creating art.
Marbut said generative AI's application in the art and education spheres is just the tip of the iceberg. She said generative AI could impact many fields in San Diego in the coming years — such as business, science, healthcare and even the media.
Just to be clear, ChatGPT or any other generative AI didn't help me write this story.
And for now, I'm happy about that.