MINNEAPOLIS — Less than a year after the launch of the hugely popular AI-powered language model, ChatGPT has become ubiquitous among college students and their coursework. At least, that's according to four of the University of Minnesota (U of M) students who have formed the University's first-ever AI Club.
Rachita Udupa, Gayathri Gajjela, and Mark Frenz are all sophomores majoring in computer science. Lily Kim, also a sophomore, majors in neuroscience. All four are highly interested in how artificial intelligence is starting to shape their majors and the industries they hope to join, in both large ways and small.
"My major is about brains, right?" Kim said. "And I think AI itself is very similar with our brain, human brain. Just one difference: AI uses algorithm while our brain uses heuristic to function. I think that difference was very interesting. And I really wanted to dive deep into it."
For years, Frenz has been following the development of different artificial intelligence technologies. Now, his personal passion is something virtually all of his peers have taken an interest in.
"I was surprised it came so fast. I kind of expected to be a lot slower coming on, but then [ChatGPT] just hit the scene, and suddenly everyone cared about AI," Frenz said. "And you're like, wow, okay, cool."
Gajjela, who codes, was excited to examine the back end of the software. Udupa became interested in the language model's benefits and flaws, and the use of prompt engineering. So, at the urging of one of their advisers, the students formed the club to discuss all of these topics, starting in the 2023-2024 school year.
"We plan to host like discussions on like, ethics, like debates," Udupa said. "Then we'll have guest speakers from different fields. So it can be like from the healthcare field, or finance, we can have people come in and talk about how AI is being used in their company."
Udupa adds that they plan to have technical workshops to examine things like image recognition and sentiment analysis.
The club debuts as both college and high school educators are faced with determining what ChatGPT's role is in their classroom, or if it has one at all. The University of Minnesota's Student Conduct Code prohibits "the unauthorized use of online learning support and testing platforms." A representative from the Office of Student Affairs told KARE 11 that section of the Conduct Code "covers ChatGPT and other online tools that are not expressly authorized by the instructor."
"Most of our instructors ban the usage of ChatGPT in the classrooms," Kim said.
However, Frenz is quick to mention instructors don't really have control over it.
"There's no real way to detect ChatGPT if done correctly," he said. "Which means if you do it properly and double check it and go, ok, this is factually correct... as long as you know what you submitted and they're like 'What is this even about?' And you can say that back to them, it's impossible to detect."
The students are also keenly aware of the software's limitations. Frenz points out "it's not bound in reality." When writing essays, ChatGPT has made up false sources.
"Like there's a citation, but it's not the right citation," Frenz said. "It's probably not even a real paper, but it thinks there should be a paper so therefore, [ChatGPT says] it exists."
That's something undergraduate services librarian Kate Peterson quickly discovered last semester when students came to UMN Libraries seeking librarians' help finding research articles from a list or essay generated by ChatGPT. Often, the students would provide the name of a real author.
"But we could never find the journal that it was published in or the source," Peterson said.
That's because the chatbot made up realistic-sounding article titles that were nonexistent, sending the librarians on a futile search.
"We have to go back to the student and say, did you use a tool to do this because we think this citation doesn't actually exist," she said.
The AI Club members see themselves as playing a critical role in educating their peers.
"With any kind of tool, there's faults and there's benefits of it," Gajjela said. "We can use it in ways that would be beneficial and not the unethical use."
They believe that getting students on board with honest and beneficial use of ChatGPT will prepare their peers for success once college is long over.
"It is the future," Udupa said. "It's not going to go away.