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ChatGPT and the gift of work


WORLD Radio - ChatGPT and the gift of work

In a world where AI can write your homework, how do we teach our kids the value of work and learning? Kelsey and Jonathan explore the buzz around ChatGPT and what it means for human formation.

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. We’re here to come alongside you as you disciple kids and students through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send them to newscoach@wng.org.

Today, we have a question from a parent listener, Ali, who writes: “In a world of conveniences and shortcuts (like AI that will write your term paper), how do I instill ethics like hard work, intellectual honesty, and integrity, other than lecturing them about it?”

So first, what a great question. It gives us scope for plenty of future content. So thanks very much, Ali. It also provides the opportunity to say: Every topic we’ve engaged at Concurrently to date deserves further exploration. In time, we hope to go back and address further facets of cultural trends and their discipleship implications. For today, we are focusing our conversation through the lens of AI and ChatGPT in particular.

JONATHAN: We’ve been writing a lot about artificial intelligence, or more accurately “machine learning,” recently for WORLDteen. It seems like every other story in the news has something to do with advancements in AI. And today, a big part of the buzz around it centers on the tool referenced in our question, which as you said, is ChatGPT.

I actually wrote about this specifically for WORLDteen, and it’s something I’ve played around with a little bit for myself. ChatGPT is a large language model from OpenAI. It was released last November. Essentially, anyone can create a free account, log in, submit a prompt, and within seconds this model spits out an expertly written block of text. You could ask it to tell a story, or write a script, or craft an essay. It’s kind of uncanny when you first try it out.

Right now, it’s mostly in the news because of education. People are asking exactly what we saw in today’s question. What happens when AI can write your term paper? How can teachers catch plagiarism if the text is uniquely generated by AI, and they can’t just Google to see if their students copied it? At the turn of the new year, we actually saw schools in New York City, which is the largest school district in America, banning ChatGPT from school networks and computers, and more have followed suit since. So this is something that teachers, parents, and students are all grappling with right now.

KELSEY: I’m wanting to ask some questions for you to help me understand some of these terms. I’m going to ask some observational type questions and ask you to draw out some of your observations as well. So first of all, define for us: What does “large language model” mean?

JONATHAN: You’re just throwing this at me. Now people are going to say, “Who’s writing their WORLDteen magazine?”

So this is a computer model that takes in a massive amount of human-written text—things written by actual people. It’s analyzing mountains and mountains of text and learning what human speech looks like, or rather in this case, what human writing looks like. It’s using that to learn patterns and formulate responses. That is the explanation from somebody like me, who is not at all a computer expert, and there’s probably somebody screaming at their computer or phone right now because I botched that explanation so badly. But I think those are the basics.

KELSEY: That was so accessible for me. I think we’re all going to find some kind of traction with that. So basically you’re describing—if I’m understanding well from what you said—you’re describing an intelligence that sources other people’s content in order to create further content. Am I understanding that well?

JONATHAN: The one part I would push back against is the idea that it’s an “intelligence.” I think that’s actually one of the common misconceptions, or questions, and that’s a whole other topic we’ll probably explore in future episodes. But really, it’s not an intelligence as much as a machine that recognizes patterns and makes connections.

KELSEY: So tell me a little bit more than about this specific tool, ChatGPT. What have you observed about it as you’ve been writing?

JONATHAN: What I really observe is less about the tool itself and more about people’s response to it. We’ve had so much in media and culture about the coming AI takeover or what have you, but people weren’t really worried about it before. It seemed like something out of science fiction. I’ve been sensing this is the first time people have really been worried about the capabilities of AI. It’s kind of the tipping point for a lot of people. There’s actually some panic and anxiety in the air, especially from people who make a career writing, or from teachers whose job it is to spot plagiarism and train kids to write well.

It gets back to that idea of the “unprecedented” we talked about in our very first episode. There are things we assumed only people could do. Tools like ChatGPT break down that barrier in our minds and make us question—what can machines do? What can we outsource to machines? What should we outsource to machines? These questions that for decades have existed only in science fiction books are now eminently practical.

KELSEY: I love that you brought up science fiction. I have had so much fun reading science fiction growing up. And even the conversation you and I had about this topic area earlier, it was a ton of fun. It’s something that—parents and teachers—I really encourage: Have a conversation with your students and kids that might borderline on the science fiction, exploring these realms together. For us, it ranged from the philosophical to the anthropological, the theology of God and man, and we just had a lot of fun with it. There’s so much freedom to explore this, and to bring it to a number of different places.

JONATHAN: It can be a really fun and interesting conversation. As much as there is anxiety in the air about it, there’s also a sense of wonder with what people have invented, and what machines can do now. Things from fiction seem to be becoming reality. But the question we got today really focuses in on that question of, “What about when an AI can write your homework?” How do you instill the value of work?

I think that starts with this base idea of plagiarism. Before we can even begin talking about that, we need to step back and question: What is plagiarism, exactly? And what makes it wrong? Because without interrogating that question, I think it’s hard for us to understand some of the core issues at play with ChatGPT as it relates to education and school.

KELSEY: To begin to provide a frame for this, I think of scholarship—how we source our information from somebody who has gone before us. No matter what we do, we’re learning and adding to a body of scholarship that already existed. We might be creating more things with it, but we really need to attribute credit for work that has been done before us. So there is this sticky point of when something we aren’t completely in control of is creating on our behalf, and it doesn’t have the discernment to verify sources. It’s merely looking at this grand lake of language from previous content and creating something that hangs together, that follows the reasonable rules of an essay. The thing that becomes a concern is when we aren’t, in humility, recognizing what’s gone before us, and even having those that have gone before shape our own thinking. So it’s not merely a “something has been created, you didn’t take responsibility for it, somebody else needs the credit.” It’s also “you didn’t do the work.”

JONATHAN: Doing the work. You used the word “shaping.” To me that is really at the heart of this, because we’ve talked about work and education before, and so much of it has to do with how it shapes us—how it shapes our kids, the way we are shaped in our thinking and our learning when we write an essay. What happens to that when you outsource that process to machine?

KELSEY: Right? I don’t want you hearing shame. This isn’t about a blame or a shaming game. This is about a recognition that, for learning to take place, we actually need to do the work. We need to be shaped by other thinkers. It needs to do that deep plowing up of the soil of our hearts and minds. It needs to take its effect even on our neurons. If we don’t engage with the work in front of us—if we are not thinking about what we have learned, if we aren’t shaping our thoughts, not even piecing sentences together—then our brains don’t benefit from that practice, that exercise. Again, it’s not this shaming thing. I don’t want us to be bound up in the wrongness of plagiarism for the guilt and shame, but for the “we’ve missed an opportunity.”

JONATHAN: So in that spirit, I want to bring in one of our tools from a previous episode. We talk about emotional intelligence. What is going on in the hearts of kids that would drive them to want to have a robot do their homework, rather than have the learning work experience? That might sound like a silly question. “Why don’t people want to do work?” Okay, yeah, we all get that. But I do think it’s an interesting question to ask.

KELSEY: I think it gives us a chance to peel back layers. I know, in my own experience, some of that was generated from myself. This fear of man. How is my performance going to match up with evaluation? In individuals’ lives, there’s an anxiety and a fear that comes from just wanting to be approved of. When you put yourself out there and you take a risk, and you’re vulnerable with your work, which is a work that’s in process and really needs evaluation to continue to grow, to improve—that’s a very frightening prospect. But I think there are external reasons for it too, that come from within cultures.

We spoke in another episode of the pressures in cultures that can result in different vocational aspirations. It was interesting to think about this with a friend, that Chinese culture is very much a shame-based culture and an honor-based culture, and they have these high aspirations of what they do vocationally to bring honor to their families. So there are external pressures, as well. How does my performance measure up to the expectations of the educational system, my family, the culture around me? I think that is starting to peel back some of those layers of where the anxiety comes from, and why we would outsource work like that, that can be so tender.

JONATHAN: So when we’re communicating the value of education to our children, even to ourselves, are we putting the emphasis on the process, the formation, growing as a human? Or are we just putting the emphasis on the achievement, on the A, on the good SAT score, on the degree?

KELSEY: It’s so important for discipleship in general, discipleship being a learning process. Discipulus, if I’m remembering how to pronounce that correctly, means “learner.” So all of life is about learning those postures of that non-anxious educator, or discipler, or mentor, to encourage the learner in front of you that process is good, that transformation takes time. That growth and improvement and a honing of a craft, as we’ve talked about before, takes worthy and long work.

JONATHAN: One of the questions that complicates it is: Where do we cross that line, when it comes to outsourcing work that belongs to people? What questions can we ask ourselves to determine that line, of when we have given too much to the world of technology, machines, inventions outside of ourselves?

KELSEY: It’s hard for me to define that too much. Part of it is because there are so many other layers here too. I think about the fact that there was a person behind the creation of each of those machines you talked about, an image-bearing person. A human being designed ChatGPT. A human being, or several of them, designed the computer. Whatever we do in terms of thinking about technology, we can’t separate it from the fact that it was created by someone else, by a person. So I want to be really careful about talking about leaning into something too much, before we start from the origin story of technology, that this came out of someone’s fabulous mind, a mind that was created by the fabulous mind.

Right now, I’m thinking about Johannes Kepler. He is famously quoted for having said that we have the privilege of “thinking the Lord’s thoughts after Him.” Now he was a mathematician and an astronomer, so he was very keen about innovation and wanted to encourage innovation in others. So I’m thinking about the origin story of innovation and wanting my questions to be tempered by that acknowledgement. That there is an image bearer who is behind this.

JONATHAN: In our first episode, where we laid out a lot of the foundation for what we’re doing here, we talked about how so much of what we think of as “unprecedented” is not that unprecedented. At almost every stage of human history, there have been new technologies created by image bearers, incredible works of invention that brought incredible convenience and progress—and also caused a lot of anxiety. The feelings we’re feeling now might have a new context. It wasn’t always AI. But they’re not new feelings. And even as there are things we might want to push against, we can also see places where, perhaps, a tool like this creates new opportunities for creation. Does it create new opportunities for growth, if used rightly?

KELSEY: As we practice our self-awareness of the tools we’re using, we’re talking about the things we can affirm, even before we present our critique, or what we would push back on or challenge. So we’re affirming that much of this comes out in the way we reflect a creative God, that we have the privilege and the honor of sub-creating underneath Him. And so there’s something about what we give into the world, that is reflective of the goodness of Him, and that He even delights in the work of our hands.

So now, bringing it back to the place of educating our children: One of the things I’ve noticed, even with AutoCorrect—autocorrect is going to be my simple go-to comparison to ChatGPT—AutoCorrect sometimes thinks it knows what I want to be saying. And sometimes it thinks it’s so smart that it adds things that are very helpful to no one at all. I have to know better than AutoCorrect in order to have a sense of the way language works. To know where I’m going with my thoughts, to know whether Grammarly or some other tool we rely on is actually doing its job, I had to learn those things in the first place in order to use the tool well. Somebody had to learn how to craft the tool well, and we have to learn how to use the tool well. It still requires human discernment in each of these areas—and even, if I dare say it, a relationship with the AI that was created.

JONATHAN: So engaging it with a sense of awareness and wisdom, not just embracing it as it comes, but remaining in authority over it, in a sense.

KELSEY: Yes, that’s a great one. Who is in charge here? And what does it look like for us to operate as stewards of the resources that exist? We still need to engage with wisdom, relationally as persons, the way that we were made to be.

JONATHAN: I do think there are some examples of where a tool like ChatGPT really can be used with wisdom. People have played around with the idea that this technology could be used to help in the process of writing code. That’s such a tedious process that somebody, even if they know what they want to code, and they know how to code it, it’s just grinding through it. If AI can help with that, being used wisely to achieve the vision of a creator who is exercising authority over it, I could perceive potential wise uses there, that actually help real people create more effective things.

KELSEY: A friend of mine mentioned, what a great way to break up writer’s block. So again, we have to know about the way an essay is constructed to be able to write a good essay, but maybe we’re stuck. And so we have some ideas thrown out there. And then, instead of having to generate everything on our own, we’re relating to some ideas that are tossed out. We use books for that all the time. You know, what are some essay prompts? There are plenty of ways we have other content that has been generated for us to reflect on and to cause us to be inspired to create further.

JONATHAN: So I think this might be a great place to briefly retrace our steps. We talked about what ChatGPT is. We’ve talked about the purpose of education to form us, not simply to be an achievement. And we’ve looked at some things we can maybe affirm about machine learning assistance when it is used wisely, under the stewardship of humans who have been called to create by God. Now maybe we can move into some of the critique, some of what we can push against when we combine a tool like this—that is ultimately in itself neutral—with fallen human desires. What are some of the questions we should be asking to stay aware of the dangers?

KELSEY: I think some of the questions that we would ask are: What is our attitude towards work? What is our attitude towards learning? Drive deeply into this place, as we mentioned before, those emotional responses: What is going on at the emotional level that is motivating us to use it in its specific ways? If we’re seeking to use it to mitigate the challenges or the pain, maybe we’re using it in a way that is not appropriate to our process as human beings.

JONATHAN: I think about the mind as something that needs exercise. Imagine if you went to the gym, and instead of lifting weights, you had a robot lift the weights for you. What are you doing at the gym? In the same way, if the goal of education is to exercise your mind and grow and learn, having a robot do that work for you is very much the same as having a robot lift weights for you.

KELSEY: But parents, we can model an attitude that our children pick up on, if we are trying to outsource things that really ought to be our work. I think of just a very simple illustration of not wanting to do the dishes. I have some nice pots and pans at home. And they really shouldn’t go into the dishwasher. But I can tell you, I have been super challenged to resist the temptation to just run them through the dishwasher. Or my nice knives. I want to put them in there, instead of going to the trouble of caring for them well, and washing them by hand. I want to outsource that good work that is required to keep a tool honed, to keep the edge of a knife. If you put it in the dishwasher, it’s going to blunt that knife. If you put the nice pan in the dishwasher, it’s going to pit the pan. It should not be exposed to those same harsh chemicals. So I need to resist the easy for trading off the hard-but-good. It’s maybe a silly illustration, but my attitude, and how I model the work that I do, has a huge impact on the attitude my children have towards work, towards how they engage what is before them.

JONATHAN: Are we showing our children fulfillment in our work? This is something I need to ask myself. When I talk to my kids about work, am I making it sound like a burden? Or like something God has given me to do, that I can carry out with the joy?

KELSEY: Am I pointing to those fun conversations I’m having about the philosophical, about “Wait a minute, we need to think carefully, and not just run away without thought into the usage of things, without doing it with care.”

JONATHAN: Maybe another question to ask ourselves—and to walk our kids through asking themselves—is: What processes in our lives give us joy? Or fulfillment? Or what processes do we see caused us to grow? What processes do we see are glorifying God, whether that’s learning something, or writing something, or reading something? And then, what would we lose if we exported those things to a machine? To even look at our own history and say, “That work I did then was hard, but look what I gained from it.” And then to ask, “If I give that sort of work to a machine in the future, what growth will I lose out on? What joy will I lose out on?”

KELSEY: So something we’re challenging here, then, is that response to pain—that response to challenge, to that which we would call hard. We’re challenging the instinct to run away from that. And we have so much supply in Scripture to remind us that suffering is a part of what produces character in us, that hard work is a lovely thing and honoring of the Lord—that tilling the soil, that breaking it up and creating pathways for seeds and for fruit. All of that is a blessed endeavor.

So we found more areas that we can challenge, and we’re doing so through the lens of Scripture. Going back to that practicing of self-awareness, talking about the tools. Today’s episode has loosely followed the S.O.A.R. method. We’re doing this analysis of our media by looking at this big topic and making careful observations, analyzing some of what we see, and using the framework of scripture for our analytical frame. We always take from that analysis moment this piece called “What can we affirm, and what can we challenge?” And we always do that through scripture. So we’re taking that moment, as we think about it, to hone our response, as we think about what we can affirm and what we can challenge. It directly moves into action, or our response. What does a faithful response to this topic look like?

I think we’ve begun to detail a faithful response, a response that is willing to be committed to the work that’s given into our hands, and to see it in a process through to a place of completion. Scripture passages that inform our thinking today include Psalm 139:13-14: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” We were designed, created by His workmanship, for work. We are His work, and we also get to image Him and do good work.

Proverbs 1:7-10 reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. As we seek His face and understand the way that He has engaged His world, it also allows us to discern His world, thinking His thoughts after him.

Colossians 2:3, concerning the Creator, says that He is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He has revealed to us the things that have allowed us to create such wacky things as ChatGPT, and other amazing artificial intelligence type tools. The Lord allowed us to do these things, because in Him, all of that knowledge is hid.

JONATHAN: I also think about Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 3:13, to be specific: “that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” Just to think about work as something we can take pleasure in, and that is even God’s gift. If we feel the desire to export anything that feels like hard work, are we giving away a gift we’ve been given?

KELSEY: And to know that we can delight in the work of our hands, and that He delights in us and exalts over us. As Zephaniah 3:17 mentions, He made us, as Father, making His children to follow in His footsteps, to work, to create, to rest, to bless. And He delights in that as we learn those things after Him.

So, let’s teach our children the joy of our purpose as human beings, to glorify God to enjoy Him forever. Let’s pray along with Moses in Psalm 90: Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. and establish the work of our hands. Parents, teachers, mentors of students, you are uniquely positioned to have the greatest impact on the kids and students in your lives. He has equipped you for the work.



Show Notes

In a world where AI can write your homework, how do we teach our kids the value of work and learning? Kelsey and Jonathan explore the buzz around ChatGPT and what it means for human formation.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

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