TEENS

What Is ChatGPT? What Parents Need to Know About The App

By George Anthony Kulz

March 24, 2023

During this school year, a twelfth grade student in a Massachusetts high school presented his English teacher, Nadine Mullins, with an essay about the play “Fences” that he generated using artificial intelligence (AI) software. He wanted to know her opinion of the essay. Mullins agreed to read it, expecting to tell right away it was not written by a human. Instead, she found that the essay was typical of most essays written by high school students. There was some awkward wording, and there were a few claims that were off, but the essay was coherent, with some good insights about the play. In addition, the piece had its own voice and style. The only clue she had that something wasn’t right was that some of the direct quotes from the play were wrong. Aside from that, she could believe one of her students wrote it.

The AI software her student used is called ChatGPT. But what exactly is ChatGPT? Read on to find out more about what this amazing and controversial AI language model can do and what the controversy is all about.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a cutting-edge AI app that just might revolutionize the way we work, learn, and interact with machines. Imagine chatting with your computer or phone, like you would chat with a person, and receiving a quick and informative response. That’s what ChatGPT is all about!

According to OpenAI, the company who designed ChatGPT, users of the app can ask it to perform informational tasks that normally require human intelligence. This AI program will answer questions and respond to information you provide. You can, for example, ask the app to answer questions about computer coding, writing, math, and more.

Currently, the ChatGPT app is free to use. OpenAI is still testing the software and gathering data from users’ interactions to improve it further. As of today, there are over one million users of ChatGPT.

What Can ChatGPT Do?

Can ChatGPT write essays?

Yes, ChatGPT can write essays. In fact, Derek Slater, a contributor to the finance, pop culture, and entertainment website GripRoom, wrote an article in January 2023 about how to instruct ChatGPT to write an essay. He even gave advice on how to make it fine-tune the essay after its first attempt by giving it feedback, as well as how to make the resulting essay your own once ChatGPT is finished with it.

I was intrigued by Slater’s experience, so I decided to follow his instructions to see for myself what ChatGPT could do. I asked ChatGPT write a 200-word essay on the importance of computer science, which is a subject I’ve written about before.

To my surprise, ChatGPT exceeded my expectations. The essay it generated was coherent and came close to the 200-word limit I set. (It was actually 254 words, and I probably could have prompted ChatGPT to edit it down for me.)

Can ChatGPT do math?

Of course! It’s no surprise that ChatGPT can do math. After all, ChatGPT is just a bunch of instructions for the computer, and a computer is nothing more than a machine that reduces everything to numbers and math. 

Many Reddit users have documented their experiences asking ChatGPT math questions and recorded video of the AI program solving those problems. I decided to ask ChatGPT to do math, too. I threw some advanced math at it by asking it to find the area under a curve described by the equation y = x2 + x + 2 from x = 0 to x = 1. (Yes, I’m a math geek.) Without boring you with the details of the math behind that, the program came back with an answer as well as a detailed description of how it got the answer. However, I found a chink in ChatGPT’s armor. While the description of how it solved the problem was spot-on, the answer was not the correct one.

Can ChatGPT code?

Yes, ChatGPT can code. OpenAI’s website shows a user asking ChatGPT to look at some sample computer code and find any problems with it. ChatGPT successfully interpreted the code and, with a little prompting, it also zeroed in on what the problem was.

When I asked ChatGPT to write a very simple program in a programming language called Java that would add two numbers together and display the result, it delivered the correct result. Plus, it provided an English description of what the code did and how it worked. 

What is the ChatGPT controversy?

ChatGPT can be a huge help for teens struggling with their homework assignments. If your teen is stuck trying to figure out a tricky math problem or trying to do research on a history project, they can simply ask ChatGPT for help. The app provides instant information in a conversational style that’s easy to follow and understand. 

Despite its amazing capabilities, there is, however, a lot of controversy surrounding this new AI. ChatGPT has been making headlines lately, and not all the attention is positive. Many schools and teachers, from elementary school to post-graduate levels, have created guidelines on how the Chatbot can and should be used in schools, and some have outright banned students from using it.

Is using ChatGPT cheating?

Question: If ChatGPT can easily solve math problems, write computer code, and compose a short essay for me, what can it do for your teen? Answer: the same thing, which is causing a lot of concern from teachers and schools. Why? Because when your teen uses ChatGPT to do their homework for them, it’s considered cheating. In fact, according to a Fortune article from January 2023, many schools have banned the use of ChatGPT to prevent students from cheating instead of doing their own work.

Does ChatGPT provide accurate and reliable answers?

Not always. When I asked it my math question, for example, ChatGPT explained the solution perfectly but provided the wrong answer. Others have noticed problems with the app’s accuracy, too. Harry McCracken, a technology editor at Fast Company, witnessed ChatGPT give different answers to the same question where there is only one correct answer.

It’s important to keep in mind that ChatGPT’s capabilities are limited and influenced by the information and data used to train it. If the data is flawed, chances are that the answers ChatGPT provides will be flawed, too. If instructions are ambiguous and depend on context, it can lead to misinterpretation and incorrect answers. Natural language processing can be just as effective or as complicated between man and machine as between friends.

Can ChatGPT be used for criminal activity?

If you ask ChatGPT, it will tell you it’s not supposed to be used for criminal activity. But we all know it’s inevitable that someone will figure out how to ask inappropriate questions and get answers, right? In fact, there have been many documented cases of people tricking ChatGPT into telling them how to do all kinds of dangerous, sordid, and illegal things. Because of this, the potential for your teen to get into trouble using it is concerning. Parents may want to think about how they want to talk about this with their kids.

What should parents know about ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence application designed to answer questions and respond to prompts based on natural language processing. It can perform a wide range of tasks, including solving math problems, writing essays, generating computer code, and more.

  1. ChatGPT can be a helpful resource for students who are struggling with homework assignments. That being said, it’s important to ensure your student is actually learning and not just relying on ChatGPT to do their homework for them.
  2. Some educators have expressed concerns about students using ChatGPT to cheat on assignments or exams. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the policies at your child’s school regarding the use of ChatGPT and make sure your child is using it appropriately.
  3. ChatGPT is still a relatively new technology and may not always provide accurate or reliable answers. So, encourage your child to double-check the information ChatGPT provides and verify it from other sources.
  4. Like any online tool, ChatGPT can potentially expose children to inappropriate content, so it is important to monitor your child’s use of this app to ensure their safety.

How to talk to your kids about using ChatGPT.

As with any other technology, the best advice I can give is to do lots of research on ChatGPT, and then discuss what you’ve learned with your teens.

  • Ask your kid if they are familiar with the app and if they ever used it before. 
  • If they used it, find out what they used it for, or what questions they’ve asked.
  • Discuss some guidelines on how to use the app appropriately.
  • Review which topics could be considered controversial, dangerous, or illegal, and how and why to avoid those topics.
  • If your teen is using ChatGPT or another tool like Google or Wikipedia to help with their homework, suggest that you ask questions together, so you can help them verify the accuracy and quality of the answers. 
  • Try playing a game to see if you and your teen can stump the AI. 

Above all, remember to let your kids know how much you value them. Communicate that while ChatGPT can be a helpful tool when used responsibly and in conjunction with other learning resources, it’s no substitute for your own child’s experiences, research, and work.

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