In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Professor Antony Aumann, a 30-year clinical psychologist who works with children, their parents and family units. Topics that they discuss are related to ChatGPT and students. The conversation includes the ethical quagmire for students who use Artificial Intelligence to cheat, how ChatGPT can be beneficial and even necessary, and what role God and religion plays in the rising number of students who are cheating.
Links Mentioned In the Show:
ChatGPT Website: https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt/
Professor Antony Aumann’s Webpage: https://nmu.edu/philosophy/antony-aumann
- (00:47) What is ChatGPT?
- (02:24) How a suspicious paper propelled Professor Aumann in the Public Eye
- (03:30) How Professor Aumann proved the student was cheating
- (04:51) How Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to prove cheating
- (06:31) Can ChatGPT be used to help students write better papers?
- (07:48) Will AI replace graphic designers?
- (10:11) Are students just lazy today?
- (10:49) Are professors guilty of being lazy?
- (11:55) Why we can’t go back to hand-written essays
- (13:44) Professor Aumann’s unorthodox solution on ChatGPT
- (15:27) Why students should learn to use ChatGPT
- (16:38) Do we need more God in lives to keep us honest?
- (18:50) What are people turning to for spiritual peace?
- (20:30) Why do students really go to college
- (21:44) Are college students becoming nihilist?
- (24:10) What is our role as parents with ChatGPT?
- (24:37) Advice for stressed-out students
- (25:29) How Professor Aumann handles all the media attention
Susan Stone: We are talking about ChatGPT today. As you know, Kristina and I represent students accused of misconduct. And a lot of the work we do is defending students when they’re accused of cheating. And since last November ChatGPT has been all over the news outlets, including the New York Times, talk about this is the new way students cheat.
Susan Stone: Kristina, why don’t you describe what ChatGPT is?
Kristina Supler: Sure. So I don’t at all profess to be a, a tech expert on any level, but reality has forced me to learn more about ChatGPT. It’s essentially an AI tool that uses natural language processing techniques to respond to user-generated prompts. Really what you do is you ask a question or give it a prompt. And then it just replies using natural language.
Kristina Supler: It’s pretty fascinating.
Susan Stone: Well, it’s how students are getting around writing their own essays. They’re actually putting in the prompt in the computer, and then the GPT actually spits out the essay for you.
Susan Stone: And it’s not without controversy. Places like the New York City schools have banned it. So we’re here today to talk more about it.
Susan Stone: Why don’t you, with that prompt, to introduce our esteemed guest?
Kristina Supler: Sure. We are joined today by Antony Aumann who’s a professor of philosophy at Northern Michigan University. He teaches courses on aesthetics, religion, existentialism. His research focuses primarily on the writings of Kierkegaard, as well as issues in contemporary philosophy of art. And recently he’s gained significant notoriety cause he was featured in a New York Times article discussing our very topic today. ChatGPT. Welcome. Welcome.
Professor Antony Aumann: Thanks so much for having me on. It’s a real pleasure to be here.
Susan Stone: Okay, I’m gonna start with the low brow question. Ready for this. How does a professor at Northern Michigan University who teaches philosophy and art and Kierkegaard get featured in the New York Times to talk about a tech app?
Professor Antony Aumann: I think that it all started because I caught a student who used the chat to write an essay for my class. And yeah, there was a Facebook post by my friend, uh, who also caught someone that went viral and they were looking for other people who had a similar story.
Professor Antony Aumann: And I was one of those people. They liked my story.
Susan Stone: That’s crazy. So you basically, and I read about that in the New York Times, figured out that the student wrote something that just didn’t seem appropriate for, was it that student or just in general?
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah, well, so it was that student. I can tell you this story.
Professor Antony Aumann: It’s kind of funny.
Kristina Supler: So yeah, tell a funny story.
Professor Antony Aumann: I’m already laughing. The student submitted an essay that was just a little bit too good to be true, like the grammar was perfect and the structure was just impeccably logically sound, and it was really insightful. And frankly it was a little bit better than what my most of my students are capable of.
Professor Antony Aumann: But of course, that in and of itself is a red flag, but it’s not proof. So what I did is I took the student’s essay and I pasted it into ChatGPT. And I said, Hey, did you write this? And it came back and it says there’s a 99.9% chance that it did write it . And so what I did, it had like some other things.
Professor Antony Aumann: So I cut and pasted the chat G P T thing, and I emailed it back to the student and I said, Hey, you can send me a chat thing. I’m gonna send you a chat thing back. What do you say about this ?
Susan Stone: Wait, did you own, wow. So we just were looking into this. Did you pay for it or how did you even have it?
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah, so this is the same company that invented Dolly, which, uh, was all the rage last year because it can create its art images, unique art images, original art images from any prompt that you give it.
Professor Antony Aumann: And as an artist myself, I was really fascinated by that. So when they came out with this essay writing chat bot, I was like, oh, I have to hop on this.
Kristina Supler: It’s interesting. It seems like every year, 18 months, there’s a new development in tech that somehow impacts significantly the academic landscape. So tell us now, what strategies are professors using to detect cheating, plagiarism?
Susan Stone: Other than turn it in, we know about Turn it in. Sure. .
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. I have a, I have a lot to say about this largely because I don’t think that we’re very good at detecting things. So there are a bunch of programs out there, including a program that has been made famous by this student, Edward Tian from Princeton University.
Professor Antony Aumann: You may have heard of him. Oh, I read about it, yes. who has this program called GPTZero. And so you can plug the students essay into it and it’s supposed to give you a percent chance or a likelihood that it was written by the computer rather than the student. You can a ChatGPT has its own sort of detector too.
Professor Antony Aumann: The problem is that there’s a lot of false positives. Mm-hmm. , um, and a lot of false negatives. And even more seriously, it’s actually really, really easy to circumvent the detectors. And so I’ll tell you, it’s actually kind of funny a little bit. So the way the, the way the detector works is it, uh, it looks for regularity in thinking and writing.
Professor Antony Aumann: Computers are very regular in the organization of their thoughts. Human beings, we’re kind of a little bit chaotic. We’re a d d, right? And so it deter, yeah, so it looks for that. But all you have to do is just insert some errors, like grammatical errors and spelling errors into it, and all of a sudden it thinks it’s written by a human being.
Susan Stone: Well, let me challenge you on this because are there acceptable uses that students can take that software and maybe it helps them create an outline or think of words that they wouldn’t have? I mean, can you use it as a learning tool?
Professor Antony Aumann: A hundred percent. And in my other media appearance is I’ve been touting it’s positive use as a tool to help students learn. Students help students how to write.
Professor Antony Aumann: So for me, there’s like a big gulf between like naughty uses of it and non naughty uses of it. So like the bad use is just to cut and paste the essay that the chat wrote, uh, and present it as your own. But I’ll tell you what I do, which is, so I’ll write a rough draft of something.
Professor Antony Aumann: I’ll submit it to the chat and I’ll ask it for feedback. Hey, what are some potential objections that I need to consider? What are some grammatical errors that I need to fix? And the chat often has really good things to say. And then I’ll do the work of incorporating them myself. And I think that’s a totally acceptable way for my students to use it.
Susan Stone: Do you think, I’m gonna give a, an art example. My high schooler wants to go into art design, um, and she’s really interested in illustration and she asked me a very interesting question and, What you talked about, your use of the, uh, tools in art. She’s like, mom, do you think I’m gonna go to art school and my job will be taken over by computers and there will be no need for original art?
Susan Stone: And of course I said no. Because you will always need human creativity. But am I wrong in saying that? Will her job be taken over? Will we need writers or will it all be created by computers?
Professor Antony Aumann: That is, uh, that’s scary. The big question. I think the art question’s a little bit easier to answer partly because I have skin in the game.
Professor Antony Aumann: My wife is a graphic designer.
Kristina Supler: oh,
Susan Stone: I love this. I love this.
Professor Antony Aumann: So there’s still a need for human beings when it comes to taste. Dolly is the name of the program that the same company puts out that’ll gener generate the art images for you. But it generates a wide range of images and some of them are good and some of them are horrible.
Professor Antony Aumann: You still need, and some of them might be good, but not good for that client. So you still need someone who has a good kind of aesthetic sensibility to figure out, okay, which of these things are helpful? Which of these things are good or bad? What are gonna reach people? What isn’t gonna reach people? And so maybe the role of the graphic designer is gonna shift a little bit.
Professor Antony Aumann: But that’s not gonna go away. And I think there’s always gonna people be people who want clients who want a personal touch. And Dolly can’t give you that.
Susan Stone: Could Dolly create a Disney character?
Professor Antony Aumann: Absolutely. That’s interesting. But you’re gonna need someone to figure out whether, which Disney character is worth preserving and which one it wouldn’t. It’ll give you a hundred Disney characters.
Kristina Supler: That’s really interesting. Susan and I, given the work that we do, working with students across the country of all different ages, we speak with a lot of educators and particularly in higher ed. And, and we’re regularly involved in this discussion about students and pressure and work ethic. And some people say, oh, students just, they, they just don’t wanna work anymore. There’s some laziness.
Kristina Supler: It seems to me, Susan, wouldn’t you agree that there’s also maybe a counter-argument that professors who are recycling tests year after year and essay prompts Oh, that’s kind of lazy too. I mean, you
Susan Stone: know. Right. And before ChatGPT, and I’m dating this back to when I went to college, there have always been test banks housed by different sports organizations and Greek organizations. So if you were taking Professor Almond’s class, you could access his test for 20 years and, you know, maybe Professor Alman needs to change his test period.
Kristina Supler: I did not propose, uh, advocating for cheating, but I, I sort of think it can cut both way.
Susan Stone: Right, right. How about challenging students a little differently? Professor .
Professor Antony Aumann: So I guess I have a couple of things to say. I don’t think my students are lazy. I just don’t.
Kristina Supler: Good. I think that’s stressed. I thank you. I, I think that’s really important for students to hear that.
Professor Antony Aumann: They’re overworked. They’ve got, my students have one, two jobs.
Professor Antony Aumann: Mm-hmm. , they’re trying to learn how to become adults. They’re taking a really heavy load of classes. You know, maybe they’re also on a sports team. And that’s just like a lot of pressure when you’re 18 or 19 years old. I mean, yeah, of course there are lazy people who exist in the world. But I like any kind of generalization about kids these days that just doesn’t fly with me.
Professor Antony Aumann: But by the same token, like we as professors are also overtaxed, like the amount of administrative stuff we have to do. And I’m supposed to write another book and coming up with those tests, I think that you don’t appreciate just like the astronomical amount of work that goes into it and yeah, we’re gonna have to write new things going forward.
Professor Antony Aumann: We’re all, we’re all really, really stressed.
Susan Stone: You know, that’s very helpful because a lot of people don’t know what faces higher ed. And so there’s a reason that you write that one test and it’s a great test and you wanna use it for year to year to free you up to do other creative work. Okay. Can I just offer, and you tell me what you think a low lowbrow solution to this problem?
Kristina Supler: Ooh, I’m curious to hear .
Susan Stone: I, I, you know, I like the low hanging fruit Supler. You know, that. What’s wrong with just having kids come in, hand them the, a little essay book, ask them a question and have them hand write an essay response to a test.
Kristina Supler: What a crazy idea. I can’t imagine an educational environment with those conditions.
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. You wanna go old school? Uh, I’ll tell you two reasons why that’s not gonna work. Please. The first reason it’s not gonna work is that it made sense in perhaps your generation and my generation, where we were raised to write by hand. We were trained to write cursive. This generation of students didn’t have that kind of training. And very few of my students can write neatly and quickly for any length of time at all.
Professor Antony Aumann: So that’s just like a practical concern. They just can’t do it. The second thing is the bigger thing.
Kristina Supler: That’s a mic drop. I apologize for interrupting you. That’s a mic drop. But that has literally never occurred to me and I think that’s it’s really obvious. But yet it didn’t occur to me and I think it’s really insightful that just the handwriting barriers and challenges in our tech age now, students can’t write and write and write.
Susan Stone: You know what? The special ed attorney in me is very upset about that because you get specific brain function development by handwriting. And so what are we doing? But keep going. I, I’m just, I, I’m like, that’s never occurred
Kristina Supler: to me. And that’s really interesting to think about that. It’s shocking.
Professor Antony Aumann: So the bigger thing is I’m not sure that just by having all of our assignments be handwritten in class, we’re really teaching students how to write in the way that we want to write.
Professor Antony Aumann: What that really exercises is your like speed journalistic abilities. But real writing is like taking your time to think about exactly what word is the right word and revising and revising and revising. And you just don’t have the time to do that in the classroom. That’s not what’s going on there.
Susan Stone: So what’s the solution?
Professor Antony Aumann: I have a utopian vision. . Okay.
Susan Stone: Share with us please. We’re getting all Waldenesque here.
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. Well, I think that school has become, for lots of reasons that aren’t bad reasons, a lot of hoop jumping. And maybe the dawn of ChatGPT is gonna remove all of that hoop jumping because now of course the chat can just jump through them for us. And maybe eventually return to what school ought to be about, which is love of learning for learning own sake.
Susan Stone: You took the next question out of my mouth. Really. And it’s funny because Kristina, last night we were talking about this, that. I, I would’ve never used ChatGPT. I’ve got, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and thinking back to me as a human being. But I didn’t go to school with pressure from my parents to get the “A”.
Kristina Supler: Well, I would say that I, I mean, regardless of family, external pressure for performance, for me, I, I too would like to think that if I were a student now, I wouldn’t succumb to these temptations.
Kristina Supler: But I also don’t have any. I, I didn’t go to college in a time when, you know, there was such easy, quick access to data. Yeah. Literally at my fingertips everywhere. And so again, I’m not condoning or justifying cheating, plagiarism, any academic cutting of corners. But I also recognize that students now, it’s just, it’s just a really different time in education.
Kristina Supler: And I, I’m wondering what are your thoughts on how professors should adjust their teaching style to just be cognizant of the changing reality of the technology that is, you know, ever present?
Susan Stone: Well, especially since we don’t like the pen and paper type solution. .
Professor Antony Aumann: I think that you have to lean into it. I would tell you if you were a student and you’re like, you would never use it, I think you’re making a big mistake.
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. It’s a tool that can be used for evil. But it’s also a tool that can be used for good. And that tool is gonna exist out there whether we like it or not. The second this student graduates or leaves the halls in my classroom or whatever else, they’re gonna be using it. Their next employer is gonna be asking them to use it.
Professor Antony Aumann: So we have a responsibility to teach them how to use it well, rationally, competently in the classroom. So that’s, I think that’s where I’m going to as a teacher.
Susan Stone: Can we talk about, you do teach religion – God.
Susan Stone: With, we are seeing a lot of cheating cases. Our, our practice started one or two a year, and now that aspect of our practice is almost weekly. We get an inquiry. I’ve been accused of cheating. Do you think students have lost a fear of God? And I’m not just talking about ChatGPT, but just cheating in general?
Susan Stone: Do, do we need more God in our lives to keep us more on the straight and narrow?
Professor Antony Aumann: I don’t know. It’s this that’s,
Susan Stone: You are a religion professor. We’re going deep.
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. I don’t know. Certainly God provides a powerful motivation to do good if you believe that God is watching or that God will reward you or punish you. Or if not God, karma, like that does give you an extra incentive.
Professor Antony Aumann: But I don’t know if, somehow humanity has gotten worse as religion recedes to the background in our society. Like I, I don’t think my students are somehow like worse human beings because they’re less religious than they were a generation ago.
Susan Stone: Are they less religious?
Professor Antony Aumann: They’re less affiliated with institutional religion. And that’s pretty well established with empirical data.
Professor Antony Aumann: We can ask people if they affiliate with some kind of institutional religion. We can ask them how often they go to worship services. And there has been like a really market downturn in that, at least in the United States since the 1950s and sixties. Why? I don’t know. I mean, that’s, that’s an interesting question.
Professor Antony Aumann: One thing to say is that there is a correlation between being religious and facing difficult times, financially, personally, health-wise and whatever else. Uh, and this is true not just in the United States, but across the world. The least religious countries in the world are these Scandinavian countries which have the highest standards of living.
Professor Antony Aumann: In the United States, the least religious states are the ones with the highest standards of living. The most religious ones are the ones with the least. So you might think that as standards of living go up, people’s felt need for some kind of security blanket diminishes. That’s one explanation. I’m not saying it’s the best.
Susan Stone: Yeah. You know what’s interesting about that? I remember going to a lecture and they said there’s. Um, Atheist in a foxhole. And that when you’re facing a military situation or a crisis, even the, the most pronounced atheist will say, Dear God, help me. And why is, you know, so that’s really interesting that we lose that sense of, and I’m not saying God in any particular religion.
Susan Stone: I like how you included karma, but do we lose gratitude when things are good?
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah, I think there’s a lack of gratitude there, but I will say a flip side of us becoming less religious is that I do think that we are looking for peace of mind in the face of, um, the anxiety that modern life brings upon us. And so there does seem like an increased interest in spiritual practices like meditation.
Professor Antony Aumann: Like mindfulness that are, if not, our western religions of old still quasi-religious because they help us on another front, even if it’s not like I’m in a foxhole.
Kristina Supler: Do you feel, I, I wanna connect back to a comment that you made earlier in this episode about when we were discussing laziness in students. And you said that students just have a lot of pressure, both externally and in the school environment. Do you think that, what are your thoughts about the amount of pressure that higher ed institutions are placing on students?
Kristina Supler: Do you think it’s the right amount? Do you think it’s too much pressure? I mean, what are your thoughts on the realities of many students who are struggling to get by and paying their way through school? But also you’re in college to learn and struggle with tough concepts and master skills.
Susan Stone: I don’t know, Kristina. Are we in college to learn or do we go to college so we can get a career and get a good job?
Susan Stone: Because college now is around 80,000 a year in some institutions. And I, I wanna challenge that notion. You can learn by going to an art museum. You can learn by reading a book. But are we going to college so we can get a job?
Professor Antony Aumann: I think that that’s a little bit of both, right? I mean, if I ask my students, yes, to some degree they’re there just because they want a piece of paper so they get a good job.
Professor Antony Aumann: And especially with the cost of education on their minds. I think that that’s like an extra stressor just to focus on the good grades. But I don’t think that we can say it. It’s just like one or the other. Even in any individual student, I think a lot of them, when they have a good class with a good professor, Art will say to me like, oh yeah, like I really, I really learned something in this class. Even if I won’t use it.
Professor Antony Aumann: And to be honest, most of the classes I teach in philosophy or religion are not directly related to the jobs that these students will have when they graduate. Uh,
Kristina Supler: European history major here with a degree from a very, very expensive institution. I loved my college years. No bearing or relevance whatsoever to my job. But it was a night, it was an enjoyable four year time,
Susan Stone: and I had a very practical mm-hmm. undergraduate education that I use every day. So, do college students have a sense of self? I mean, are they really, are they spiritual beings or are they nihlist?. Oh,
Kristina Supler: Big question.
Susan Stone: Has anyone else asked you that? On a podcast to a professor? .
Professor Antony Aumann: I think that a lot of them have those nihilistic worries. And maybe it’s tied to the lack of religion. Because religion isn’t just solace in difficult times. It also gives us a sense of purpose and direction in our lives. It tells us why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing and where are we going and why does it all matter?
Professor Antony Aumann: And so if you lose a lot of that and when is the time, then people really have their religious doubts? Late adolescence, early adulthood, that’s when a lot of it sets in. And so I ask a lot of my students, you know, is , does nothing matter anymore? And I think a lot of ’em will admit that they worry about that. But they’re, I think within that like overwhelming worry, there’s a lot of ’em still trying to carve out some sense of significance in their lives and hoping for that.
Susan Stone: Would the temptation to cheat be reduced if we could regain in students a sense of purpose in self?
Professor Antony Aumann: I don’t know. I think that a lot of crimes are crimes of opportunity. You know, like that’s where Christine
Kristina Supler: says, I totally agree. I just as an aside, I have a background in criminal defense and Yes, I agree with that a hundred percent.
Susan Stone: That’s what we were talking about last night. Getting ready for this podcast.
Professor Antony Aumann: Well that forces you to think about it a little bit. You know, you’re like, oh, I have to go through all this work to cheat. I have to find it. You know, someone who will write the paper for me and pay them. But if it’s just. , it’s free and it’ll take you 30 seconds. I don’t know if even that reflects as much on students’ characters as cheating did in the past where it was a lot of work.
Professor Antony Aumann: It now seems more like an impulsive action by a stressed out individual.
Susan Stone: What other thoughts do you have on this topic? Because you have such an interesting perspective that you’d like to share with parents out there listening to this podcast.
Kristina Supler: And I, I like that a lot of your feedback is not just solely rooted in, how dare they and the judgment for, because let’s face it, in my opinion, that’s not helpful.
Kristina Supler: So I, I’m really grateful for a discussion that is considering more in the bigger picture.
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah. That’s not to treat them as human beings, just to, to look at it. I also think that that’s like just all those professors out there that just wanna play cop and catch the students who are cheating. I really think that that’s naive. That this technology exists, whether we like it or not, it’s gonna be out there.
Professor Antony Aumann: Students are gonna be using it. Again, we have an obligation as parents, as teachers to help our students learn how to use it well, rather than just say it’s forbidden fruit.
Susan Stone: Any other thoughts? Because I just love that.
Kristina Supler: I think that’s well said though. The, the analogy, it’s forbidden fruit. I guess what words of advice or encouragement would you have for those stressed out students?
Susan Stone: I love that. Good question.
Professor Antony Aumann: Talk to your professors. . I think that most of us are pretty understanding human beings if you continue to keep the lines of communication open. What I don’t like is the student who just drops off and doesn’t talk to me at all. If you’re saying, Hey, I’m stressed out. I can’t do it today, I need an extension. I’m more than happy to provide that.
Professor Antony Aumann: No, not everybody’s like that. But I think most of us are pretty understanding human beings. We’re not the boogeyman that some students worry that we are.
Susan Stone: I wish that I would’ve had the opportunity to take your class, you know? So I, I really appreciate you coming on and I know you’ve been exploding since.
Susan Stone: What, tell us about how your, uh, career’s changed since the New York Times article.
Kristina Supler: I have to think it’s been a whirlwind, right? I mean, all of a sudden your name is everywhere.
Professor Antony Aumann: There’s been a lot of a lot of media appearances. And it’s been fun. It’s been nice but it’s hard to do that and continue to do my regular job.
Professor Antony Aumann: It’s not like all of a sudden I don’t have to teach. And so what gives on that front is my personal life. It continues to hard, be hard to have work-life balance and you know, without an incredible wife who’s happy to support me and love me, even while I come home stressed out at the end of the night, uh, I don’t know if I’d get through this.
Susan Stone: Is this gonna change your career?
Kristina Supler: Do you have new thoughts for research or,
Professor Antony Aumann: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Kristina Supler: Or is that, is that confidential?
Professor Antony Aumann: Yeah, , I, uh, I tried to send President Biden an email telling him I would head up his ta, his ChatGPT Task Force, but he didn’t get back to me.
Kristina Supler: It was busy last night, but maybe today.
Kristina Supler: Check your email. Check your right. Yeah. Right. . Well, thank you. This was really such a pleasure. We, we, we laughed. We talked about technology. We talked about religion and philosophy. We covered it all.
Susan Stone: I was gonna say, is there anything we didn’t cover?
Professor Antony Aumann: No, I think this was great. It was so much fun. Thanks for having me on.
Kristina Supler: Thank you. Thank you.