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NYT: A.I. Wrote Ivy League Application Essays

Started by Wahoo Redux, September 08, 2023, 08:13:13 AM

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apl68

Quote from: Hegemony on September 10, 2023, 12:51:34 AM
Quote from: Sun_Worshiper on September 09, 2023, 06:45:23 PMLet's say that I ask chatGPT to write me an essay about how the new rules in baseball are ruining the game. In doing so, I explain to it the argument that I want it to make. The LLM spits out about 1000 words in seconds, capturing the essence of my argument and providing some good prose in the process. But it is a bit clunky, with several run on sentences and examples from history that turn out to be inaccurate. From there, I rewrite the essay to sharpen up the argument, clean up the grammar, and input accurate historical examples. By this point, the essay looks rather different than the one that ChatGPT created, although it still follows the structure of the first draft and there are large segments of prose that the LLM wrote. If I submit to a magazine for publication, the editor will have some ideas for how it should be updated and amended for publication, and the essay will look still more different than what ChatGPT created in the first place once these changes are made.

So is this plagiarism/cheating? It was my idea, yes, and I did a lot of work to bring it to fruition. But I had help in this scenario turning it into an article and some of the essay structure and prose will be from the program. If a human had written that first draft for me, then they should rightfully be the coauthor, but it isn't a human, so those same rules may not apply.

As for whether it is a good idea, I guess that is for every individual to decide. But I will say this: Nobody will know that I used LLM, since it can't be accurately detected. And 95% of the other writers in newspapers and magazines are doing the same thing, perhaps in an even more egregious way.

Each individual piece of writing will look pretty much okay, though probably a bit bland. But soon people will get used to the clichéd writing that AI does. I am a reader for a fiction publication, and we are getting a ton of AI-written submissions. I imagine the submitter gives the AI some instructions like "Write a story about a romance that goes wrong. Include a cute dog." Something like that. But the stories are all the same. The sentence structure of the first sentence is always the same. They always develop in the same way. You can predict where the first dialogue will occur. You can predict when the narrator will summarize part of the story. This is whether the story is four paragraphs long or twenty pages long. It is so, so recognizable.

Most published genre fiction, including "literary" fiction (and nonfiction memoir articles, for that matter) was already about that predictable before ChatGPT came along.  It's why I've long had little interest in those sorts of writing.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

Kron3007

Quote from: Hegemony on September 11, 2023, 02:37:45 AM
Quote from: Sun_Worshiper on September 10, 2023, 03:10:24 PMYou are really underestimating LLMs, both in terms of the quality of their output and the value they offer as a writing tool. Odds are that your students are using them more than you think and so are your favorite writers, and you can't tell the difference.


Nope, not a chance. The subjects I assign are too specialized, relying on class-specific readings and materials, for ChatGPT to make any headway whatsoever. The one assignment in which the students try it is a different type, but it too is supposed to make use of topics and motifs we have discussed at length in class. Do these topics and motifs ever show up in the bot-written submissions? They do not. Fail. To get them in there, you'd have to feed the entire semester's reading assignments into the instructions, and even then it wouldn't know how to pick good examples and analyze them perceptively. It's not smart.

I also am a reader for a fiction magazine, as I probably mentioned, and I can guaran-damn-tee you that not one accepted piece has used ChatGPT. ChatGPT has no imagination. It is predictive, not creative. It is literally the "Family Feud" method of writing — what next word is most predictable in this sentence? That's the one to use! A couple of days spent comparing our bot-written submissions and human-written submissions would persuade anyone.

If you're writing boilerplate guff about widget production, I guess ChatGPT is sufficient, though I have better things to do than to teach my students how to modify it and check all its facts and make it acceptable. But if you want actual original thought, not just machine-generated wording, ChatGPT is useless. As for its output, as Truman Capote famously said about Jack Kerouac, "That's not writing, that's typing."

The majority of writing that many students need to do is predictive, not creative.  I guess in your bubble of academia it is not very good (yet), but in many fields it does a reasonably good job.   

Where ChatGPT falls apart in my field is that it dosn't cite sources and has no qualms about making things up, leading to some pretty wild claims that are hard to verify.  However, there are other models that do cite their sources and they are constantly improving so even this issue will likely vanish.

   



Stockmann

Call me a cynic, but I don't think they'll make such a huge difference to most college applicants - I think they'll make a huge difference to their ghostwriters. Some ghostwriters will do well, being able to work a lot faster, others will go out of business. The per essay price will probably go down.

More broadly, I guess it all depends on what one calls "serious" writing. A lot of commercial writing is very repetitive and formulaic. I'm not surprised that Hollywood studio execs have wondered how hard can it really be for an AI to write the script for the umpteenth remake/reboot/sprequel of a comic book adaptation. If things like cover letters are going to be evaluated by AI, you might as well have an AI write something optimized for an AI. Ghostwriting is already the norm in many fields, not least in politics. I'm reminded of a Dilbert comic strip, where he congratulates his boss on being the first human being to fail the Turing test.

Hegemony

Quote from: apl68 on September 11, 2023, 07:50:25 AMMost published genre fiction, including "literary" fiction (and nonfiction memoir articles, for that matter) was already about that predictable before ChatGPT came along.  It's why I've long had little interest in those sorts of writing.

This made me laugh. Predictable! The stuff I read is about as unpredictable as fiction can get. "It's so predictable that I never read it, and that's why I know so much about it."

apl68

Quote from: Hegemony on September 11, 2023, 11:54:50 PM
Quote from: apl68 on September 11, 2023, 07:50:25 AMMost published genre fiction, including "literary" fiction (and nonfiction memoir articles, for that matter) was already about that predictable before ChatGPT came along.  It's why I've long had little interest in those sorts of writing.

This made me laugh. Predictable! The stuff I read is about as unpredictable as fiction can get. "It's so predictable that I never read it, and that's why I know so much about it."

Well, that's the thing.  You must run into all sorts of imagination and different perspectives with your students.  Yet somehow most of that seems to get weeded out in the publishing industry.  I encounter a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction through my library work.  So much of the former--and a good deal of the latter, especially in memoir--looks tired and predictable.  Among other things, I've learned to suppress a groan every time I see a reviewer describe an author's prose as "lyrical."
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

marshwiggle

Quote from: apl68 on September 12, 2023, 07:26:13 AM
Quote from: Hegemony on September 11, 2023, 11:54:50 PM
Quote from: apl68 on September 11, 2023, 07:50:25 AMMost published genre fiction, including "literary" fiction (and nonfiction memoir articles, for that matter) was already about that predictable before ChatGPT came along.  It's why I've long had little interest in those sorts of writing.

This made me laugh. Predictable! The stuff I read is about as unpredictable as fiction can get. "It's so predictable that I never read it, and that's why I know so much about it."

Well, that's the thing.  You must run into all sorts of imagination and different perspectives with your students.  Yet somehow most of that seems to get weeded out in the publishing industry.  I encounter a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction through my library work.  So much of the former--and a good deal of the latter, especially in memoir--looks tired and predictable.  Among other things, I've learned to suppress a groan every time I see a reviewer describe an author's prose as "lyrical."

Well, for young writers who have grown up on movie and TV remakes and covers/mashups of old songs, they are used to almost everything being derivative.
It takes so little to be above average.

Parasaurolophus

I like novels written to a template, provided it's a solid one--e.g. Bernard Cornwell's output, or Simon Scarrow's, on Angus Donald's, or... etc.

But most of the fiction I read isn't like that at all. Not even close.
I know it's a genus.

mythbuster

As a relevant aside. I'm currently grading cover letters and resumes for students in a class I teach that deals with professionalism in the sciences. I've already encountered several cover letters that are either downloaded templates or AI written. They lack ANY specific details about the actual student and may have blanks in sentences that should be filled  in but have been left blank (e.g. insert work experience here). Those are getting the grade equivalent of being tossed in the proverbial circular file.
   The good ones- if the started with AI, clearly rewrote so much of them to personalize that I would likely consider them to be written by the student.

spork

Quote from: mythbuster on September 12, 2023, 08:51:11 AM[. . .]
 
  The good ones- if the started with AI, clearly rewrote so much of them to personalize that I would likely consider them to be written by the student.

With the right prompt, there is no need to rewrite:

college application essay.
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.

Caracal

Quote from: mythbuster on September 12, 2023, 08:51:11 AMAs a relevant aside. I'm currently grading cover letters and resumes for students in a class I teach that deals with professionalism in the sciences. I've already encountered several cover letters that are either downloaded templates or AI written. They lack ANY specific details about the actual student and may have blanks in sentences that should be filled  in but have been left blank (e.g. insert work experience here). Those are getting the grade equivalent of being tossed in the proverbial circular file.
  The good ones- if the started with AI, clearly rewrote so much of them to personalize that I would likely consider them to be written by the student.

I mean I write my cover letters  to a template. It's my template, but I'm not starting from scratch. It has its origins long ago in a friend a few years above me in my grad program's cover letter. I didn't cut and paste that letter, but I did basically go point by point with it as a guide. The goal of the cover letter is to highlight the elements of your resume that you hope make you a good fit for the position. It shouldn't stand out because of the writing or the things it discusses-the only thing you want to stand out is your qualifications.

I'm sure AI can manage a decent template, but it isn't likely to save time when you can adopt a template from elsewhere and it is also likely to mess things up by not understanding the conventions of the field.

Kron3007

Quote from: Caracal on September 14, 2023, 11:20:24 AM
Quote from: mythbuster on September 12, 2023, 08:51:11 AMAs a relevant aside. I'm currently grading cover letters and resumes for students in a class I teach that deals with professionalism in the sciences. I've already encountered several cover letters that are either downloaded templates or AI written. They lack ANY specific details about the actual student and may have blanks in sentences that should be filled  in but have been left blank (e.g. insert work experience here). Those are getting the grade equivalent of being tossed in the proverbial circular file.
  The good ones- if the started with AI, clearly rewrote so much of them to personalize that I would likely consider them to be written by the student.

I mean I write my cover letters  to a template. It's my template, but I'm not starting from scratch. It has its origins long ago in a friend a few years above me in my grad program's cover letter. I didn't cut and paste that letter, but I did basically go point by point with it as a guide. The goal of the cover letter is to highlight the elements of your resume that you hope make you a good fit for the position. It shouldn't stand out because of the writing or the things it discusses-the only thing you want to stand out is your qualifications.

I'm sure AI can manage a decent template, but it isn't likely to save time when you can adopt a template from elsewhere and it is also likely to mess things up by not understanding the conventions of the field.

My wife has been home with our kids for years and is now looking to re-enter the workforce.  It has been a while for her so I was helping her write the cover letter like blurb on her resume.  I delegated this task to chat GPT, and it did a pretty good job.  As mentioned, you just have to give it good instructions.

If you don't like it's outputs that's fine, you can just send it back to revise based on your critique. It is particularly useful for items out of your specialty, and often introduces concepts you may not be aware of since it is not your area.  Then, you can look it up and verify.

In the case of fiction, if it seems to repetitive or predictable, you can smtell it that and get it to re-write it.  It is called "chat" GPT because it is meant to be an iterative process. Many of the comments here make me fairly confident that people are giving chatGPT sub-par direction, accepting the first output, and casting judgement.  This may be what some students used it for, but students are smart and will learn to use it better.  Those that think you can spot chat GPT instantly will likely miss the more nuanced users.


Anselm

I do know that students in China pay people to write essays when applying to American schools since I have seen the help wanted ads for the essay writers.
I am Dr. Thunderdome and I run Bartertown.

apl68

Quote from: Anselm on September 19, 2023, 05:54:10 AMI do know that students in China pay people to write essays when applying to American schools since I have seen the help wanted ads for the essay writers.

We'll probably see a real shake-out in that market, with the successful early adapters of writing bots capturing the whole market by increasing their productivity, and the rest having to find something else to do for a living.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me