I’ve just tried out CHATGPT!

If you read yesterday’s Brimmings, you know about the challenge ChatGPT represents across many fronts, how it’s already impacting daily life, and how it may affect your future. Taking the Internet by storm, it now has 100 million subscribers. Rumors abound that Microsoft will soon invest $10bn in openchat GPT.

Like many, I sensed from the outset that ChatGPT would pose a threat in the classroom, encouraging lazy minds to take shortcuts in completing assignments. In the past, educators had tech apps capable of monitoring suspected plagiarism. I’ve used them effectively in my own college teaching. At the moment, that’s old school. We really don’t have a deterrent these days, say many educators with the onset of ChatGPT.

Now comes breaking news that the New York City Board of Education has banned ChatGPT from department devices or Internet networks.

But is this much touted new tech really the threat many say it is? I decided to find out for myself by trying out the software. I have to caution you that the money vultures are out there in abundance, so guard your wallet. Through much effort, I did find a site that’s free. And bonus, easy to use.

Since I was a college English prof till my retirement, it seemed appropriate to begin with asking in the topic box why I should read George Eliot’s Middlemarch. The response came within seconds:

Sure, I can help you write an essay on why to read Middlemarch. Middlemarch, written by George Eliot and first published in 1871-72, is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel follows many characters in a small English town called Middlemarch and explores how their lives intersect and their stories become intertwined. It has been praised for its complex characters and intricate plot structure, which allow for a deep exploration of themes such as morality, beauty, power, and corruption. In addition, Middlemarch is also known for its sharp and witty social commentary as well as its profound analysis of human nature. It is a must-read for anyone interested in literature or wanting to gain a better insight into humanity. Reading Middlemarch will allow readers to explore a wide range of topics, such as faith, love, politics, and ambition. It will provide a new perspective and understanding of the human experience, and its timelessness allows it to remain relevant today. Whether you are an avid reader or someone looking to start their journey with literature, Middlemarch is sure to be a rewarding experience that will leave you richer in understanding and appreciation.

Not bad, but not really good enough, consisting of several generalizations, when what we need is flesh on the bones. In short, more specifics.

Thinking maybe “the intricate plot” bit might warrant more development and a topic in itself, I then asked ChatGPT to discuss the novel’s complex plot structure . Dutifully, I got this immediate response:

In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, plot complexity is paramount. The intertwining of multiple stories and the multiple points of view create a complex web of relationships, tensions, and conflicts that make the novel an interesting and engaging read.

The novel focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small English town, Middlemarch, and centers on the developing relationship between Dorothea Brooks and Edward Casaubon. The complexity of their relationship is what drives much of the narrative as we see them struggle to reconcile their different social backgrounds and personal goals. The characters in the novel also have their own individual stories that contribute to the overall complexity of the plot: Rosamund Vincy’s thwarted romance, Fred Vincy’s moral dilemmas, Will Ladislaw’s struggles with identity and Lydgate’s prideful quest for professional success. All of these threads intertwine and eventually come to a head in the denouement of the novel.

Eliot uses her characters’ struggles to explore the complexities of human emotions and relationships, showing how seemingly small decisions can lead to large consequences. She creates a narrative that is both intricate and believable, where characters must confront difficult moral choices and grapple with their own flaws. Through this, Eliot is able to convey a powerful message while also creating an engaging story that readers can connect to.

Overall, Eliot’s use of plot complexity in Middlemarch makes it an enthralling read that is sure to captivate readers. By combining a variety of characters and storylines, she creates a narrative that is both complex and believable, ultimately making it an unforgettable read.

Obviously, this is more specific to what I asked, though still requiring development. A good student will resort to an appropriate database for further yield, perhaps along the lines of character comparison and contrast.

At this juncture, I don’t see ChatGPT as a horrendous menace in academia.  You may remember that google search was viewed similarly when it initially made its appearance.  Now we see it as a tool.  I view ChatGPT likewise.

Students utilizing ChatGPT will still need to document their sources properly.  Plagiarists will still get caught, lacking the voice element that normally identifies their writing.  A good many students, sadly, can’t even formulate a proper sentence, develop a thesis governed by coherence, etc.  Sudden perfection?   Hey, not happening!

There’s also the deterrent of expense.  Many of these bots require an annual fee up to $100 annually or $8.00 weekly. Some charge per word.

ChatGPT can be humorously silly in its results. In one scenario, I asked for specifics on myself.  I got back that I was founder and CEO of an international software company located in Montreal.

What I dislike is the mindset that’s too commonly out there, the proclivity to taking the shortcut rather than rolling up the sleeves to do the necessary research consolidating the thesis.  As one student tweeted:  “Wow ChatGPT just wrote a 20 paragraph final essay for me. Now I don’t have to watch the 2 hour movie and write the essay myself.”

More than ever, we need minds able to weigh the best ideas in the agora of open debate as we confront challenges to human survival itself.  There aren’t any shortcuts to this end.  Recent findings on neuroplasticity inform us that consequent with learning, experience and memory formation, new neural pathways get strengthened, whereas those infrequently used wither and die (simplypsychology.org).  The  brain, just like the body, requires exercise.

The good life is that of assertion, not passivity, of doing and becoming, fundamental to our  achieving identity and, with it, purpose and happiness.  There are no shortcuts.


Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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