AI and Plagiarism

A man stares at his computer and contemplates AI.Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days–from chatbots and search engines, to audio and video tools. The world of writing, and student papers in particular, is no exception. While there may be legitimate uses for these tools—if you use ChatGPT or other AI/large language models to create written content for any of your classes, you are guilty of plagiarizing.

Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT are built upon massive databases of text scraped from sources like books and journals, but also blogs and social media sites. When you prompt an LLM with a question, the program draws upon its data to provide the most likely answer. Despite being described as “artificial intelligence”, these LLMs are not thinking—they are using statistical analysis to predict the most likely response. Essentially, LLMs work like the suggestions you see when typing out a text message.

As much of the data used to build LLMs was taken from original sources without attribution (or attention to copyright), some might argue that LLMs are themselves plagiarism machines. Regardless, content derived from LLMs cannot be considered truly original. Submitting work that is not your own is the very definition of plagiarism.

For guidance on what NOT to do within your courses, here is a list of things to avoid:

  • Do not use ChatGPT or other AI tools to produce responses to discussion prompts, essays, bibliographies, or any other written work you are asked to create for a class.
  • Do not ask AI writing tools to edit your work for you. Doing so is akin to asking your writing tutor to fix all your mistakes. This is still cheating, and you should not do it.
  • Avoid the temptation to ask LLMs to generate a list of sources for your paper on a particular topic. While it’s possible for an LLM to act as a jumping off point for further research/study, the tools are prone to hallucination—they will provide information that sounds correct but is entirely made up. While this is not technically plagiarism, using faulty information in your writing will certainly result in a bad grade.

Of course, completing assignments that specifically allow or require the use of AI would not be considered plagiarism. If you aren’t sure whether AI is allowed for an assignment, you should consult your instructor.

Remember that at many institutions, the punishment for plagiarism can be as severe as expulsion. Additionally, keep in mind that your instructors have likely read hundreds of thousands of words of student writing. AI-assisted writing will not be difficult for them to spot.

Ultimately, the only way to become a truly skilled writer is by writing, as much as you can and as often as you can. Furthermore, the purpose of academics is to engage with the material and draw your own conclusions. Don’t cheat yourself of the chance to become great by using a bot to think for you!

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