SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — Artificial intelligence — will it change how schooling is done for the best? Or will it make cheating that much easier?

A professor from Weber State University believes it will do both but will prove itself to be more beneficial than problematic. Researchers at Brigham Young University say AI can now respond just like a human would to complex survey questions. This may help predict things like presidential races in the future.

Dr. Alex Lawrence is an associate professor at Weber State University. His background is in business and is teaching the next generation how to be successful at internet sales and internet technology.    

“I really had thought, and still think, that this is the biggest thing I’ve seen since the internet,” Lawrence said referring to ChatGPT.  

For the first time this semester, his students use ChatGPT as it is part of the curriculum. ChatGPT is a chat bot that uses artificial intelligence to give the user answers, ideas and feedback to the user in real time. 

During the visit with Dr. Lawrence, he showed ABC4’s Kade Garner how it works. ChatPGT gave examples of questions Garner could ask Lawrence during the interview. It also gave him a quick brief on what ChatGPT can do.

One may think that is not that impressive since the app was just describing itself. However, Lawrence was getting ready for a trip to New York City with his family. The app was able to create simple and detailed itineraries for what the family could do during their trip based on their preferences.

This powerful, concise and quick feedback is part of the reason Lawrence decided to incorporate AI into his curriculum. “I’m encouraging them to use it for any assignment that has a presentation or writing, or video.”

Some may ask: Won’t that make cheating easier?  

After using ChatGPT for the first time, Lawrence thought: “One, this is going to change everything, and two, this is the greatest cheating tool I’ve ever seen.” 

He told ABC4 that someone who wants to cheat will find ways regardless. By using AI apps, he expects students to be able to drastically improve their work. He explained: “There’s a number AI apps out there that we could talk about that will watch videos, and essentially grade them for you and score them for you and tell you things you can do to make your video better, and give you suggestions, and you can upload a new video and it does it again.” 

He said that AI is already disrupting the business sector, and in a good way. He doesn’t believe it will threaten jobs in every sector but added: “I do think it’s going to make waves in some industries that are going to be pretty intense.”

“I want to prepare students to use the tech that I know they’re going to see in the workforce,” he said. “We’re not only embracing it in my classes, we are working hard to help them become early experts in how to leverage the latest technologies available. I think it’s my duty to do that as a teacher.”   

One of the industries that could potentially be impacted by AI is political polling and surveying. According to Brigham Young University, researchers created artificial personas and assigned them certain characteristics like race, age, ideology, and religiosity. They tested to see if these artificial personas would vote the same as humans did in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections. Surprisingly, the AI said it would vote nearly identically to how real humans voted. 

“As a social scientist, I wish I could ask everybody four hours’ worth of questions, but nobody is going to do that, and nobody should have to do that,” Dr. Ethan Busby told ABC4. He’s an assistant professor and one of the researchers from BYU working with other social scientists who are asking the question: How can AI (like ChatGPT) be used for good?

“These tools let us explore new questions, they let us investigate what groups of people might be pivotal in an investigation, or topic,” Busby stated. “And it’s good for us to have these conversations about what’s good and what’s not good, what we’re comfortable with and what we’re not comfortable with, and we push in the paper to talk about this stuff more openly and talk about what is the right place for these types of tools in our society.”  

As apps, like ChatGPT, get better at writing like people, there are other apps — one called OpenAI — that professors can use to spot essays and other homework that may have been written by AI rather than a student.

Lawrence encouraged parents to get to know these apps for themselves. He said many young students do already use it and, in many cases, it can be used to cheat. If used correctly, he said it can be an incredibly powerful tool, much like a personal tutor, for children.