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ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-based chatbot that launched in November of 2022. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn professors and students have expressed both optimism and concern about the impact of ChatGPT, a popular artificial intelligence-based chatbot, on academia. 

ChatGPT, which launched in November, quickly surged in popularity and has raised questions about ethics and plagiarism. The chatbot, which was developed by OpenAI, can complete tasks like writing essays or code and solving math problems. It takes inputs and generates responses that mimic human dialogue. The chatbot can also return code and algorithms in its response. 

Though chatbots have been around for a while, ChatGPT has gained greater attention due to two distinct features, Wharton associate professor Ethan Mollick told CBS News. As Mollick described, these differentiating aspects are ChatGPT's advanced language model and its ability to have a conversation with the user. 

Critics have expressed concern that the new tool can cause controversy in the academic environment, as students may use it to cheat on essays or homework problems. In response, many teachers and schools are trying to ban or regulate students’ use of the tool for academic purposes, and are faced with challenges such as students’ technical savviness and access to multiple devices.

While Penn has yet to implement any restrictions on ChatGPT, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with three students and one professor about ChatGPT's popularity, including its ability to both increase efficiency and make it easier for academic dishonesty to occur.

Engineering first year Eitan Seitchik said that he sees the tool as a model that can increase efficiency in multiple different environments.

“[ChatGPT] allows for the creation of personalized, interactive learning materials, leading to enhanced engagement and effectiveness,” Seitchik said.

Though he acknowledged that the chatbot had technological strengths, Seitchik said that he is concerned about the possibility of ChatGPT perpetuating biases in education. The data that the model uses may contain stereotypes, which has the potential to create a self-serving cycle; if text produced by ChatGPT is published, it will become part of the dataset that the tool uses in the future, which could continue to amplify the problem. 

Seitchik's concerns represent a larger worry among students and teachers, some of whom have moved to regulate the usage of ChatGPT. A Princeton student recently created an application that can identify if a piece of writing is the work of a human or a computer by making use of intangible distinguishing factors, according to Business Insider. The app is yet to be tested rigorously by Princeton’s Natural Language Processing group. 

Despite the initial panic that ChatGPT’s introduction into the education system caused among teachers, Mollick told CBS News that ChatGPT has the potential to be an innovative tool in an academic setting to improve students' understanding of material. 

Aryaman Meswani, a Wharton and Engineering first-year student in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, echoed Seitchik's concerns about the ethical use of artificial intelligence systems.

“I think that no matter how it is marketed to students, it is extremely likely that ChatGPT will be used solely, or at least largely, for the purpose of doing assignments for students,” Meswani said. "I would avoid its use as far as possible, [as] I think it acts as an imbalance to what should be an even playing field among students at college.”

While ChatGPT could help the academic playing field, it could also breed inequality, Wharton and College first year Varyam Gupta said. 

“In the short run, the free ‘beta’ version of ChatGPT that requires user responsiveness provides a level of equity, since an increasing number of modern students have access to the internet,” Gupta said. “However, like most novel technologies in and out of the education space, it will almost certainly charge a fee sooner or later.”

OpenAI recently announced the launch of ChatGPT Professional, a monetized variation of ChatGPT designed to help those in the workplace. ChatGPT Professional's benefits include no unavailability windows and unlimited messages, though the program has not yet been released to the public.

“Once it’s not free... it’s a completely different ballgame," Gupta added, saying that a paid version would create an "exponential advantage" to people who can afford it.

Dr. Jean-Paul Cauvin, a visiting scholar in Penn’s Department of Philosophy, said the algorithm has the potential to benefit those who are already advantaged and harm those without certain resources.

“This is already our world," Cauvin said. "We are just beginning to understand the speed and ubiquity of these transformations."