Thursday, March 30, 2023

Artificial Intelligence And School Work

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made great progress over recent years. Within the past few months, one company released two products online for the public to use. Dall-E creates graphic images based on a user’s natural language request, attempting to understand what you want and drawing it. ChatGPT holds conversations with users and can create poetry and prose based on a user’s request. It can also answer questions and write essays. The technology is still new and the results are very impressive but still not great.

Some students have already realized that ChatGPT can do their homework. A January 6, 2023 article in the Yeshiva College newspaper, The Commentator, is titled “Students Caught Cheating Using AI on Final; Academic Integrity Policy Updated.” Software has already been developed to detect whether an essay was written by a human or artificial intelligence. I would like to examine whether halacha forbids using AI to do your homework. Of course, if the school or teacher says it is not allowed, that means when you hand in the homework, you are agreeing that you did not use AI for it. But what if there is no explicit rule about it?

When I was in school, we were not allowed to use calculators in math tests. If we were caught using one, we were found guilty of cheating. Today, students are expected to use (expensive) calculators. Teachers have changed how they teach to incorporate calculators so it is now a tool for learning rather than for teaching. I suspect that AI will eventually become a tool for learning also. However, that will take time. Currently, if a teacher assigns an essay, he expects the student to write it himself. What does halacha say about someone who uses AI to write that essay?



When it comes to plagiarism, presenting someone else’s work as your own, there are three possible prohibitions. One problem is theft because you are violating the copyright of the original writer—you are stealing his words and thoughts. Halachic authorities debate whether this is technically forbidden or merely an issue of following secular law (see Rav Nachum Menashe Weisfish’s excellent book, “Copyright in Jewish Law”). However, that does not seem to apply to AI. Presumably, the artificial intelligence does not own the copyright on its writings, although maybe that will change in the future.

Another problem with plagiarism is geneivat da’at, misrepresentation. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat vol. 2 no. 30) writes that students in school are forbidden to copy off each other because of geneivat da’at. You are claiming to have knowledge which you do not actually have. Additionally, if the grade you receive impacts your ultimate GPA when you graduate, and you are hired based in part on your GPA or degree, Rav Feinstein says that you are stealing from your employer with every paycheck you receive based on false grades. That constitutes actual, ongoing geneiva, theft, in addition to the initial geneivat da’at. The same should apply to submitting the work of AI as your own. You are misrepresenting yourself as having skills, knowledge and achievements that you do not have. That act constitutes geneivat da’at and could lead to outright geneiva in the future.

Rav Aaron Levine (“Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law,” pp. 31-35) argues that failing to properly cite sources is not just misrepresentation but also a lack of gratitude. If you see a book quote a text and—relying on this citation in the secondary source—quote the underlying text, you have to quote the book in which you see the quote because that book is your teacher. This falls under the Mishna (Avot 6:6), “Whoever repeats a thing in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world.” However, Rav Levine says, even if you look up the original source, you still have to quote the secondary book in which you learned about the source out of gratitude. The book, or rather the book’s author, provided you with valuable information and deserves a public thanks for the help.


Artificial Intelligence and Cheating

The requirement for gratitude applies in the case of plagiarism. When you fail to acknowledge the original author, you are violating the requirement to show gratitude and more generally showing disrespect to the author. Does this apply to artificial intelligence? I suspect that it does not. We do not thank the tools and technology we use to accomplish things. I do not see authors thanking their computers and word processing software, not to mention the printing and binding machines that create physical books. AI is just another technological tool that does not expect gratitude and is not offended by ingratitude.

In general, academic crimes of plagiarism and cheating depend on expectations. When a student is expected to do math without a calculator, he is considered cheating if he uses one. To the best of my understanding, currently, students are expected to write essays and do other work without the assistance of artificial intelligence. When that changes (I say when and not if), usage of that technology will not constitute cheating. Until that time, using AI contrary to expectations constitutes geneivat da’at and possible outright geneiva.

Rabbi Gil Student is editor of www.TorahMusings.com.

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