How will Chinese universities respond to the rise of ChatGPT?

AI-powered tools without multiple mechanisms of censorship are unlikely to be allowed on mainland, expert says

三月 8, 2023
Beijing, China - July 25, 2019. People are climbing the Great Wall in China
Source: iStock

After the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University recently banned students from using ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence-powered tools for coursework and assessment, questions have been raised on whether institutions in mainland China will take a stand soon.

Although ChatGPT is not officially available in China, it still sparked an AI frenzy in the country. Earlier this month, coverage by local media saying that some Chinese students used ChatGPT to write essays attracted 88 million reads within two days on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform on the Chinese internet.

“There are obvious database limitations of the editions that my students can get hold of,” Jiang Yuhui, a professor at the department of philosophy at East China Normal University, told Times Higher Education. “As a result, it is unlikely to have a massive impact on students at this stage.”

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According to local media, several university staff said in the interview that their institutions “have not made regulations about AI-powered tools yet”.

Some academic journals have taken action. The Jinan Journal (Philosophy & Social Science Edition), affiliated with Jinan University, issued a statement in February announcing that it will not accept papers that credit any large language model, including ChatGPT, as an author. The Journal of Tianjin Normal University (Elementary Education Edition) said that a written explanation was required for the usage of AI-based writing tools in any part of the submission.

However, Professor Jiang described the frenzy as “a positive revolutionary force”. He said: “In the long run, the impact on the education system is fundamental, as it emphasises the essentiality of creative thinking, intuition, and experience.”

Academic integrity is not the only area of scepticism. “In a way, the Chinese government will treat [AI-generated content] similarly as it treats search engines, to which multiple mechanisms of censorship are applied,” said Sun Xin, senior lecturer in Chinese and east Asian business at King’s College London. “It is unlikely [that] the Chinese government [will] make ChatGPT-style products developed by Western companies available to Chinese users.”

Dr Sun predicted that certain products developed by Chinese companies were more likely to be allowed in the market, but with “a close eye on each key stage of the development cycle of these products, including data sources, training, algorithm, and final output”.

Baidu, China’s technology giant, has announced plans to reveal its ChatGPT-like chatbot called ERNIE Bot in March. Earlier this month, Fudan University launched a similar chatbot platform called MOSS, which is temporarily out of service for upgrading. The platform reportedly performs better in the English context, due to “the relatively smaller scale of open-sourced data in Chinese”.

“Of course, since AI technology can be more complicated compared with the traditional search engine, the government’s understanding of its implications, as well as its attitudes and regulatory actions, are constantly evolving too,” Dr Sun said.



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