Authenticity: honest authors, being human

I briefly had a form up on my website for people to be able to contact me if they wanted to use any of my visualisations, visuals of theory in practice. I had to take it down because ‘people’ proved incapable of reading the text above it which clearly stated it’s purpose. They insisted on trying to persuade me they had something to flog. Often these individuals, generalists, were most likely using AI to generate blog posts on some vaguely related theme.

I have rejected hundreds of approaches in recent years from individuals (I assume they were humans) who suggested they could write blogs for me. My site has always been a platform for me to disseminate my academic outputs, reflections and insights. It has never been about monetising my outputs or building a huge audience. I recognise that I could be doing a better job of networking, I am consistently attracting a couple of hundred different individuals visiting the site each week, but I am something of a misanthrope so it goes against the grain to crave attention.

We should differentiate between the spelling and grammar assistance built in to many desktop writing applications and the large language models (LLM) that generated original text based on an initial prompt. I have not been able to adjust to the nascent AI applications (Jasper, ChatGPT) in supporting my own authorship. I have used some of these applications as long-text search engine results, but stylistically it just doesn’t work for me. I use the spelling and grammar checking functionality of writing tools but don’t allow it to complete my sentences for me. I regularly use the generative AI applications to create illustrative artwork (Midjourney) and always attribute those output, just as I would if were to download someone work from or other similar platforms.

For me, in 2023, the key argument is surely about the human-authenticity equation. To post blogs using more than spell and grammar checker and not declaring this authorship assistance, strike me as dishonest. It’s simply not your work, your thoughts, you haven’t constructed an argument. I want to know what you, based on your professional experience, have to say about a specific issue. Obviously I would like it to be written in flowing prose, but I can forgive clumsy language used by others and myself. If it’s yours.

It makes a difference to me knowing that a poem has been born out of 40 years of human experience rather than the product of the undoubtedly clever linguistic manipulation of large language models devoid of human experience. That is not to say that these digital artefacts are not fascinating and have no value. They are truely remarkable, that song generated by AI can be a pleasure to listen to, but not being able to relate the experiences related through song back to an individual simply makes it different. Same is true of artworks and all writing. We need to learn to differentiate between computer intelligence and human intelligence. Where the aim is for ‘augmentation’, such enhancements should be identifiable.

I want to know that if I am listening, looking or reading any artefact, that it is either generated by, or with assistance from, large generative AI models, or whether it is essentially the output of a human. This blog was created without LLM assistance. I wonder why other authors don’t declare the opposite when it’s true.

Image credit: Midjourney 14/06/23

Plagiarism: desperately in need of redefinition in the age of generative AI.

The vernacular definition of plagiarism is often “passing off someone else’s work as your own” or more fully, in the University of Oxford maternal guidance, “Presenting work or ideas from another source as your own, with or without consent of the original author, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement.” This later definition works better in the current climate in which generative AI assistants are being rolled out across many word-processing tools. When a student can start a prompt and have the system, rather than another individual, write paragraphs, there is an urgent need to redefine academic integrity.

If they are not your own thoughts committed to text, where did they come from? Any thoughts that are not your own need to be attributed. Generative AI applications are already being used in the way that previous generations have made use of Wikipedia, as a source of initial ‘research’, clarification, definitions, and for the more diligent perhaps for sources. In the early days of Wikipedia I saw digitally illiterate students copy and paste wholesale blocks of text from the website straight into their submissions, often with removing hyperlinks! The character of wikipedia as a source has evolved. We need to engage in an open conversation with students, and between ourselves, about the nature of the purpose of any writing task assigned to a student. We need to quickly move students beyond the unreferenced Chatbots into structured and referenced generative AI tools and deploy what we have learnt about Wikipedia. Students need to differentiate between their own thoughts and triangulate everything else before citing and referencing it.

Image: Midjourney 12/06/23

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