Skip to Main Content

Chatbots and Beyond: A Guide about AI Technologies

Considerations and updates about Artificial Intelligence applications for natural language processing, such as Chat GPT, Microsoft's Bing and Copilot, and Google's Gemini. General information about Artificial Intelligence is also provided.

Thoughts on AI ChatBotts by Alexis Pavenick

Hello Everyone! I'm Alexis Pavenick, PhD, MLIS. I am an Associate Librarian for CSULB, and I currently cover Literatures and Languages. I have written this guide through interest and research about ChatGPT - I'm a little bit of a tech geek now that I am a librarian. I share with you here information my colleagues and I have found about the topic.

While I am by no means an expert in AI Chatbots, I do have 16+ years experience as an English adjunct lecturer for Cal Poly Pomona, Los Angeles City College, Glendale Community College in the LA Area and Bronx Community College, The Art Institute of New York City, and ASA College in New York City. I am quite familiar with assigning and grading long and short essays and dealing with plagiarism. My PhD is in English Literature from UC Riverside, so I am also familiar with writing essays in literature, as well as in social science, as I have a MPhil in Anthropology from Cambridge. 

Please take my suggestions of ways to respond to concerns about ChatGPT and other chatbot usage as my own inspiration of approaches I might take in teaching and assigning tasks to assess writing and critical thinking skills.

Select HERE to find my other library guides, and Select HERE to see all the guides of our CSULB Librarians.

What is a Chatbot?

The technology company Oracle defines a chatbot as follows, "At the most basic level, a chatbot is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person. Chatbots can be as simple as rudimentary programs that answer a simple query with a single-line response, or as sophisticated as digital assistants that learn and evolve to deliver increasing levels of personalization as they gather and process information."

  • Chatbots use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and other machine-learning artificial intelligence algorithms to create their output. IBM defines NLP as "the branch of computer science—and more specifically, the branch of artificial intelligence or AI—concerned with giving computers the ability to understand text and spoken words in much the same way human beings can."

  • The purpose of many chatbots we encounter is to save an institution or company time and money by answering common questions. The widespread use of chatbots suggests that marketing strategies believe interacting with a human-like text or voice experience appeals to people more than reading a Frequently Asked Questions page.

  • Chatbots are also available as subscription-based text creators; these are often used by people who write for blogs and sales. If you search the Internet with phrases such as: "subscription chatbots for blogging," you will find many companies who offer text-creation services. This has been going on for some time. 

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT works in a similar fashion to all chatbots. It uses NLP and other algorithms to examine user inputs and respond with what its software engineers consider useful and apt responses. ChatGPT stands out for two main reasons: 1) The currently free access to using the bot and 2) Its billion-word corpus, which increases with each of the bot's iterations. The enormous scope of Internet data ChatGPT pulls from is part of its "large language model" programming. It is this scope that, in large part, gives ChatGPT's results such a natural tone and potential for accuracy.

  • ChatGPT is based on OpenAI's GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model, which has been trained and will continue to train on an ever-increasing corpus of text data in order to generate human-like responses to text-based prompts.

  • How it works:
    • When a user types a query into ChatGPT, the program analyzes the words by examining their order and content meaning.
    • It then searches its data for similar words and content meaning.
    • To answer the query, ChatGPT predicts the most typical words that have followed each other in the past, in relation to the text and content of the query.
      • It also chooses intermittent stages to insert a less-typical word, which gives the tone of the writing its more human-like, if bland, quality.
    • If you want to see a consideration of how this is developed through code, Stephen Wolfram's article "What is ChatGPT Doing . . . and Why Does It Work?" has a good explanation.

  • OpenAI is aware of the concerns educators have about the use of ChatGPT by students. They have created an Educator Considerations page which explains their philosophy and suggestions for use.

What are the Educational Concerns about ChatGPT?

Here are some common concerns educators have about ChatGPT and other LLM AI ChatBots:

  1. Quality of information & bias: ChatGPT's current billion-word corpus of data is compiled from text it finds by searching the Internet. We know that information on the Internet can be incorrect, biased, discriminatory, outdated, or fake, among its problems. While ChatGPT does have some safeguards and restrictions on what kinds of answers it will return, it is not infallible, nor can it be relied upon to offer correct information; it is often wrong.
  2. Undermines critical thinking: ChatGPT's language reads and sounds like human speech. Thus, users may be more prone to accepting its results without critical analysis. 
  3. Undermines problem-solving: As ChatGPT gives full and detailed answers, users may become less interested in learning and practicing the skills of research and problem-solving. 
  4. Threatens privacy: As with any interaction on the Internet, users may input personal information during conversations. Any data put into any chatbot is likely collected, and how this information is stored or used is difficult to discern. 
  5. Career concerns: People are also concerned that their jobs and careers may be at risk if software like ChatGPT can effectively impersonate human thinking in writing and speaking.

!! What can Educators do to deal with Chatbots?

Exploring AI Pedagogy: A Community Collection of Teaching Reflections

An initiative of the MLA-CCCC Joint Task Force on AI and Writing

Modern Language Association (MLA) | Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, aka The 4 Cs)

Here is an older summary of actions educators may take to engage with ChatGPT and/or mitigate concerns about it:

  1. Use ChatGPT for critical thinking activities: Ask ChatGPT a question (or have it write a short essay) and then have students evaluate and try to verify the results. This is a good activity to develop skills of evaluation, especially of a result they would like to trust. It also gives students a chance to "peer-review" an artificial student, rather than their classmates. 

  2. Use ChatGPT as an outlining tool: One of ChatGPT's greatest abilities is to make sense of disorganized notes.
    • Students can discuss ideas in a group or write them down in class. Together, they can input their ideas into ChatGPT and ask it to create a bullet-point outline for them. In this way, students can see ChatGPT as a tool to help them clarify their thoughts, not just a source of answers. 

    • As well, educators can ask ChatGPT to make lesson plans or create class activities this way. Remember, ChatGPT is pulling information from the Internet, and there are huge numbers of shared lessons and activities out there.

  3. Use ChatGPT as a discussion topic: Explore ChatGPT's capabilities in class in relation to class content, and discuss the ethical issues that its use creates. This is a way into topics such as ethics, responsible use, and privacy.
    • Remind students that, like Social Media, ChatGPT collects their ideas and information. Anything anyone enters into ChatGPT can become part of its dataset.

  4. Stay informed: Stay informed about the latest developments in ChatGPT and related technologies, to be aware of the potential impact on student learning and society. See below for news articles and links to AI tech blogs.

  5. Ask your CSULB Librarian to give you resources or speak to your class about Information Literacy and Digital Literacy to help students explore critical thinking and evaluation techniques when using Internet and library resources.

Above is a ChaptGPT Workshop given by the UCLA History Dept, suggesting methods to understand and manage cheating via ChatGPT use. It is short, just over 17mins, and gives some very good suggestions for best practices.

Along with the suggestions made by the History Professors at UCLA, consider the tried and true method of the composition educator: 

  • Writing in class throughout the semester
    • Begin the semester with a diagnostic essay to get a baseline of student writing ability and basic knowledge of your topics.
      • Diagnostic essays are typically general/big idea questions about what students may or may not know about the topics to be covered in class, what they expect or hope for from the class, what barriers they may be concerned about.
    • Short assignments, written in class, add to that initial baseline
      • Any class time used to write and revise will help educators (and students) understand the students' current and improving skill levels.  
      • Testing in short bursts in between discussion and in-class work can have a similar effect.

The more in-person and/or real-time evidence you have of student work, the more it will inform your evaluation of their take-home assignments. 

To learn more about how to use ChatGPT in your classroom, try searching the Internet with phrases like: "ChatGPT for educators"

Guides to Avoid Plagiarism

Helpful References & Resources

To keep aware and updated about the developments of ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence technologies, consider subscribing to the Tech blogs of CNET, MIT News, Stanford's Machine Learning, and UC Berkeley's AI Blog and their AI Department.

For information about the dynamic changes in leadership at OpenAI and other tech industry topics, I suggest The New York Times podcast Hard Fork.

Below are some articles I have collected since OpenAI's Chat GPT was launched in November 2022.

Glossary of Terms

Here is a Glossary of Terms related to Generative AI offered by a prompt writing company called AI Prompt Marketplace & Prompt Engineering Community.

A big thank you to Amelia, a student researcher, along with her mom, for suggesting this list, which they found while investigating the benefits and concerns of using AI technology.

The Future of Chatbots

On 3/17/23, a popular independent editorial book site called Book Riot, "ASKED CHATGPT WHY BOOKS SHOULD BE BANNED."

They found ChatGPT's answer, "a better defender of the First Amendment rights of all than Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, Utah Parents United, and all of the other book banning groups."

For liberal-minded educators, this is good news. 

The thing to consider about this, however, is that ChatGPT is a product. It and AiChatbots like it will eventually be available for sale, making their language and content slant customizable. Currently, OpenAi/Microsoft are controlling ChatGPT's answers in a liberally-minded way. This will change depending on the interests of the people using the tool. See The New York Times* March 22, 2023 article, "Conservatives Aim to Build a Chatbot of Their Own."

Once again, this "AI" is still controlled by humans. Please remember this as it moves forward in development.

State of the Art - Basic information about Chatbots as of 02.19.2024.

  • Microsoft is the major investor in OpenAI.
  • ChatGPT 4 (the subscription version) accesses information through April 2023, but some plugins can access current information.
  • Microsoft's search platform Bing and its chatbot Copilot uses a similar structure of ChatGPT to answer search questions and generate content.
  • Google's Bard has become Gemini and works in a similar fashion to Microsoft's Bing/Copilot.
  • Bing/Copilot and Gemini are able to access current information on the Internet.
  • A new service called Perplexity AI can search and summarize the Internet, such that you can search it like Google and it will reply with a summary of what it has found, along with links.

Microsoft's Copilot - A New Expression of OpenAI's Chat GPT

Please note that CSULB University Library has access to The New York Times and many other newspapers, journals, and periodicals. To find and access what we have, on the homepage of the Library, underneath the OneSearch box, select Advanced Search. Then, at the top black ribbon, select Journal Search. Enter the title of the periodical, e.g. The New York Times, and you will see whether we have the item and the length of the run we have access to. If we do not have what you are looking for, please use Interlibrary Loan to request it.