What to Read about ChatGPT

Everyone's been writing about ChatGPT. Here's what librarians should read.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT—a mostly free and accessible AI-driven writing program—has, in just a few months, achieved the Silicon Valley fantasy, disrupting not only an industry or an ecosystem but the entire social imaginary. It has raised hard questions about the future of education, literacy, and information. Though the quality of its writing is still relatively juvenile, ChatGPT and related AI-writing software show too much potential for growth to dismiss out of hand. Indeed, some companies have already staked bets on their future. 

Academic librarians have been rightfully concerned. ChatGPT collides head-on with their vital responsibilities to promote information literacy and academic integrity. But is this collision necessarily a disaster, or is it a recipe for synergy? In other words, is AI an enemy or an ally? A terminus or a starting point? A perpetuation of old problems or their potential unraveling? These are questions we intend to explore at LibTech Insights. In the meantime, we have gathered some essential readings on the subject to help begin the conversation.

“Did a Fourth Grader Write This? Or the New Chatbot?” Claire Cain Miller, Adam Playford, Larry Buchanan, and Aaron Krolik (New York Times)

If you haven’t played around with ChatGPT yourself, this quiz gives a taste of its writing by asking you to read a short passage and then determine whether an actual fourth-grade student or ChatGPT wrote it. Though this quiz risks rousing the fear that AI writing is necessarily malignant and promotes cheating, it nonetheless offers a good jumping-off point for discussions on AI in educational environments.

“ChatGPT Advice Academics Can Use Now,” Susan D’Agostino (Inside Higher Ed)

Eleven academics weigh in on AI in college education. Their responses range from practical—paper-and-pencil assessments still work fine—to deep questions for rethinking intellectual labor and promoting student agency in the process. Anna Mills (College of Marin) provides the especially intriguing point that “critical AI literacy” needs to become part of the college curriculum—a point that might suggest to librarians how current notions of “information literacy” will need to expand.

“Disinformation Researchers Raise Alarms About A.I. Chatbots,” Tiffany Hsu and Stuart A. Thompson (New York Times)

Librarians have been on the front lines of fighting disinformation, and AI chatbots risk exacerbating this problem by reciting misinformation and factual errors in the authoritative tones of official texts. The article highlights the human-AI interactions that are necessary to correct these errors while also drawing out the grim problems that may ensue if they aren’t fixed.

“Science journals ban listing of ChatGPT as co-author on papers,” Ian Sample (The Guardian)

Already, many major academic publications have issued policy statements on ChatGPT. Science banned ChatGPT, arguing that its information was unreliable. Other publishers have taken more nuanced positions, for instance, allowing for its use as a writing tool for non-native English speakers. This debate around scholarship raises an interesting question for librarians. Collections librarians in particular will have to seriously consider whether journals and resources that allow ChatGPT, given the potential for misinformation and general questions about intellectual integrity, continue to meet academic standards and whether/how they should be included in scholarly databases.

“Google Search Has Nothing to Fear From ChatGPT,” Tristan Greene (Undark)

The decision of major search engine companies, such as Bing and Google, to integrate ChatGPT or similar AI-based technologies into their products should be on every librarian’s radar, because it will fundamentally reshape how people access and research information. This article, published in an online magazine focused on the intersection of science and technology, parses out the initial differences between ChatGPT and search engines. Though the fundamental differences Greene maintains between ChatGPT and search engines may erode or collapse as the technology improves, he offers a helpful analytical framework for differentiating these technologies and their uses.

“College students ready to embrace ChatGPT,” Lexi Lonas (The Hill)

Crucially missing from most pieces on ChatGPT—even those that bemoan what AI will mean for education—is how students feel about this technology. Many simply assume that students will use these technologies in bad faith. This article includes several interviews with students who reflect on what ChatGPT means for their education. Academic librarians are already well versed in asking students about their research practices and strategies, and are poised to continue these conversations with students about how AI will fit into their toolkits.

Choice and LibTech Insights gratefully acknowledge our launch sponsor, Dimensions, a part of Digital Science.  Dimensions, is the largest linked research database available and provides a unique view across the whole research ecosystem from idea to impact.

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