University that used ChatGPT to write email about Michigan shooting apologizes for “poor judgment”

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Facepalm: Generative AIs like ChatGPT promise to make our lives easier by performing mundane tasks. But there are some things that are better left to humans, such as writing a letter about building a stronger, more inclusive community in the wake of a mass shooting. One would imagine that staff at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee would realize this, and they certainly wouldn’t include a note at the end of the message confirming ChatGPT wrote it. But here we are.

As reported by The Vanderbilt Hustler, staff at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College (Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) sent the email following the shootings at Michigan State University in which three students were killed and five others injured.

The email mentioned caring for one another and promoting a culture of inclusivity on campus, something that requires respect and understanding, to honor the victims of the tragedy. “We must continue to engage in conversations about how we can do better, learn from our mistakes, and work together to build a stronger, more inclusive community,” it read.

The letter ended with a note that stated: “Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model.” Understandably, this didn’t sit well with readers, who found the use of AI for such a tragic subject matter to be insensitive, impersonal, and lacking empathy.

Students lashed out at the letter, calling it “disgusting” and a “sick and twisted irony” that a message about togetherness was written by a computer program and not the person sending it.

Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Nicole Joseph, one of the names on the letter, apologized for the message in a follow-up email, calling the use of ChatGPT “poor judgment.”

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“While we believe in the message of inclusivity expressed in the email, using ChatGPT to generate communications on behalf of our community in a time of sorrow and in response to a tragedy contradicts the values that characterize Peabody College,” Joseph wrote. “As with all new technologies that affect higher education, this moment gives us all an opportunity to reflect on what we know and what we still must learn about AI.”

There are a couple of indications that the email was written by an AI, including the use of the plural “shootings” when there was one incident. It also contains only a single use of a Vanderbilt-specific term.

“I am also deeply troubled that a communication from my administration so missed the crucial need for personal connection and empathy during a time of tragedy,” wrote Camilla Benbow, dean of education at Peabody College.

ChatGPT’s popularity has exploded over the last few months in a way that we’ve rarely seen with other technologies. But for all the positives that come from these machine-learning AIs, there are an equal number of negatives. Its ability to create short stories is causing huge problems within the publishing industry, and Sam Altman, the CEO of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, has warned that the world might not be far away from “potentially scary” artificial intelligence.

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