To the Editor:
Every time I get out the vacuum cleaner, my dog goes crazy. It is very annoying, and I try many different things to get him to stop: I ignore him; I turn the machine off and pet him; I put him on the other side of a door; I make a big show of threatening him with the hose. But no matter what I do, the dog cannot perceive that the machine is not an independent entity. He cannot see that I am its operator and that it serves a particular, essentially social function in our relationship (I, the domestic drudge, use it to clean up messes that he, the carefree aristocrat, makes); so every time I turn it on he attacks it with comically self-important urgency.
In the now innumerable articles where they “respond to” ChatGPT and insist that it has “changed everything,” academics are like my dog with the vacuum cleaner, though in their case it is not an inability but a refusal to see that the machine is a social device operated by the human will (“ChatGPT Is Already Upending Campus Practices. Colleges Are Rushing to Respond,”The Chronicle, March 6). ChatGPT did not create itself and did not erupt into the world spontaneously and without warning. It is not the problem but a symptom of the problem. It could not flourish in an academic culture where students, faculty, and (especially) administrators had not already fully embraced a crass utilitarianism as the basic principle of higher education. It would merit no response if academic culture had not already convinced itself that the tyranny of big tech is not to be resisted but rather accommodated and even celebrated
The steroids analogy used by a professor quoted in your article is both apt and typically obtuse. The pressure to cheat does not come from access to a particular technology, nor will it be alleviated by the creation of a sophisticated counter-technology. The pressure comes from the top of a ruthlessly profit-driven and therefore essentially corrupt system that massively benefits a few humans at the expense of a great many others. I am as at a loss as anyone about how to address this essential corruption. But I am certain that nothing can be gained by insisting, practically or rhetorically, on the power and independence of machines. Using or not using ChatGPT is a moral choice and, as with many moral choices, the difficulty of making the correct one does not make it any less clear.
Professor, Department of English
Montclair State University
Editor, Shakespeare Quarterly