On the Use of AI Writers in Seminary
A Concise Memorandum to Faculty Colleagues in Theological Higher Education
I write the following for fellow faculty in seminary education. I trust the ideas might be of some use to colleagues in other professional graduate schools.
A MEMORANDUM ON THE USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) WRITERS IN THEOLOGICAL HIGHER EDUCATION
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A White paper
For Faculty Colleagues
Michael A. Milton, PhD, DMin
Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism
26 February 2023
Memorandum for Fellow Faculty on AI Writers in Theological Higher Education
Artificial Intelligence (AI) content creation is increasingly being integrated into academic platforms, including seminary classrooms. This memorandum aims to provide faculty with an overview of AI content creation, its potential benefits and limitations, and recommendations on its usage in student research.
AI content creation is powered by data access and sophisticated predictive algorithms. It can create content as varied as iambic pentameter verse to essays.
AI writing is as good as the prompts input. It has huge potential, but it is, for now, a very sophisticated reverse Wikipedia. It is unreliable, often overly generic, and its algorithmic output can be for out wrong.
AI-generated content can be used as a supplementary tool to assist students in their writing process rather than a substitute for their own efforts.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) content creation is here. It promises to be as transformative as the iPhone or Google. But in an era of transformation, will AI writing stand out as a leading innovative technology?
My experience with its main site, ChatGPT, causes me to classify it with Wikipedia. While far stronger in capabilities, it is nevertheless a sophisticated knowledge-management system with additional algorithmic code capable of expressing its lightning-fast, user-prompt-based scan of data in a somewhat bland and predictable style.
Because of its enormous potential for commercial usage in content creation (e.g., revenue-producing blogs) it is expected to grow in popularity. To wit, AI writers like ChatGPT are not going away.
AI can produce content for use is a variety of settings (I will get to higher education and ministry). However, the “illusion” of creativity is not well-hidden. The output displays formulaic responses (an opening, body, and close). Alternatively, with carefully crafted prompts, the AI writer can produce surprisingly complex content. For example, I asked ChatGPT to “produce a poem about the prophet Jeremiah in iambic pentameter after the style of John Donne.” Here us the output:
In Judah's land, where prophets oft did speak,
There came a man with warning in his mouth,
Jeremiah, his name, his mission bleak,
To sound alarm of Judah's coming rout.
With fervent zeal and tears of deep distress,
He spoke of Babylon's impending rage,
Of God's impending judgment, no redress,
And Judah's fate to fall beneath its age.
But Judah's heart was hard, its ears were deaf,
It mocked the prophet's words with scornful jest,
And plotted ways to bring him to his death,
Forgetting that God's patience has its test.
Yet Jeremiah stood firm, a steadfast rock,
Enduring scorn and persecution's flame,
And through it all, he clung to God's own flock,
And kept alive the hope of Judah's name
Thus spoke the prophet in his ancient tongue,
His words still ringing out through time's long scroll,
A voice of warning that has never hung,
And still rebounds in every human soul.
Not bad. No one will mistake it for Donne, but not bad. Here’s the thing: The more detailed the prompt the higher the quality of the product. However, I, also, found that detailed theological inquiries can provide generic answers.
Technology bears within itself both possibilities and problems. While AI content creation is a promising tool for research, it is not a replacement for critical thinking and writing skills.
Faculties should create and publish student guidance concerning AI writing. Students are expected to use this technology wisely, as with other research and knowledge management instruments. Under no circumstances should students replace their original writing with AI-generated content.
Consider the opportunities and limitations of AI content generators like ChatGPT. The quality of its content is sub-par, references are unreliable, and analysis and interpretation are limited by code writers and assigned reference literature.
Rather than merely banning AI content creation, help students see how to use it creatively. AI is a writing resource, not a writer. The University of Michigan blog on AI writing offers the following wisdom on application: “The AI tools focus on a lowest common denominator approach, not creativity. What is it that humans do well, and what are approaches that emphasize the human aspects of communication, literacy, creativity.”
Technology bears within itself both possibilities and problems. While AI content creation is a promising tool for research, it is not a replacement for critical thinking and writing skills. Therefore, the use of AI-generated content should be approached with caution and used as a supplementary tool to assist students in their writing process rather than a substitute for their own efforts.
"The printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information" (Postman, 1990, p. 19).
Our challenge is, then, to gather the data from the research provided by AI engines, examine it, test it, and express it with critical thinking and theological reflection. And that process is as old as the written word. Extracting knowledge to isolate truths and lies, things redeemed, and things lost is at the heart of what we do. We spread the variables across the tablecloth of evidence and begin sorting. We educate pastoral students to think critically, and biblically so that they will faithfully shepherd human beings past treacherous ledges and forests of wolves to locate the fair pastures of life abundant and life eternal. Neither artificial or human intelligence can meet such a calling. Only a supernatural source can supply the wisdom our mission demands.
Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Translated by John Wilkinson. New York: Vintage Books, 1964.
Jones, Sarah. "The Use of Artificial Intelligence Writers in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges." Journal of Higher Education Technology 12, no. 2 (2021): 45-62.
Milton, Michael A. “It Matters How You Say It: Writing with AI.” Michaelamilton.substack.com. Accessed February 26, 2023. https://michaelamilton.substack.com/p/it-matters-how-you-say-it.
Postman, N. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in the age of show business. Penguin Books, 1990.
Smith, John. Artificial Intelligence Writers in Higher Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.
These articles focus on the potential and the problems of AI created content in higher education.
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