AI and Bots

I get a lot of emails from this website–and sadly, the vast majority have been generated by some form of AI. It is possible that I have readers from around the world (which would be wonderful of course), but my hunch is that a lot of the emails I get are from spammers and scammers of various kinds. How do I know? For one thing, the messages “respond” to something I never said or ask questions that are not germane to the content I offer. Other messages are so generic they are clearly designed to be shot-gunned out to blogs with no real concern about where they land.

But the real question here is, does anyone need to know how to write any more, or can we just turn all our production of written language over to AI programs? Clearly I am not unbiased–I am, after all, a writing tutor (among other things)–but my strong feeling is that there are certain kinds of nuance (as well as subtle matters of “correctness”) that are so dependent on actual human understanding of what has been written that the savvy reader will almost always be able to tell whether something was generated by a skilled human writer or a program.

My colleagues who still teach in university settings wail and moan about the fact that students rely more and more heavily on AI to generate their essays, but here’s the part that may be of interest to students. Not only is there software that is trained to detect whether something has been generated by AI, but–hold on to your hats–professors are sensitive enough not only to language use but also to what students know and understand that they will see the red flags that send them running to such software to back up their suspicions that the text is, in fact, not generated by the student. (If no one could detect whether something was generated by AI, there would be no purpose to such software, nor would professors know when to use it–and trust me, they do.)

I understand that writing is hard. So is reading difficult material and synthesizing it sufficiently to say anything of interest about it. I understand the pressures that are on students, not only in terms of the demands on their time but the pressure to get good grades. I understand the things that make students feel that it would be a really smart choice to use AI to generate their essays. Before the advent of AI sophisticated enough to do a fairly good job of “writing,” students used to rely on other short-cuts (and probably still do, actually, in addition to using AI). But learning any skill requires that we do the work, that we make mistakes, that we feel disappointed and frustrated and unsure of ourselves. So the question for you is, are you in this in order to learn anything or not? You may not be. You may be going to school only because it’s expected or required for some reason, and you just want to put a check in that box and get on with things that matter more to you. I have a strong suspicion that, somewhere down the line, you will find yourself in a situation where what you didn’t learn actually matters, but you may not believe that’s true–and in any event, I’d rather make a case for why learning the skills and information you learn in college is worth the effort, the blows to the ego, the stress and strain. I’ll give my thoughts on that score in another post.

(Oh, and by the way, if you are a real live person looking at this website and finding some kind of value in it, please say something meaningful in your message so I know you’re not a bot. If I get such a message, I’m happy to respond, though I may have to dig through my spam folder to find it, so please be patient about receiving a response.)