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If you’re a Harvard student signed up to take an introductory coding course this fall, an AI chatbot might be one of your instructors.
Beginning in the fall semester, one of Harvard University’s flagship coding courses, CS50: Introduction to Computer Science, will implement artificial intelligence in the instruction of its students, The Harvard Crimson reported. The chatbot will assist students, but a professor will still be the main instructor in the course.
“Our own hope is that, through AI, we can eventually approximate a 1:1 teacher:student ratio for every student in CS50, as by providing them with software-based tools that, 24/7, can support their learning at a pace and in a style that works best for them individually,” Professor David Malan, who instructs CS50, told the newspaper.
The AI chatbot will answer questions, assist in finding bugs in students’ code, and explain coding error messages, Malan told the paper. The chatbot will be “similar in spirit” to ChatGPT and help both professors and students, the New York Post reports. Instead of simply handing the answer to students, Malan insists the tech will be “leading students toward an answer” and won’t give “outright solutions.”
The answers the chatbot gives students can also be reviewed by human course staff, the newspaper says. This feature is in its beta testing stage during the summer course.
Malan conceded that artificial intelligence does make cheating easier and more anonymous for students, but says that using technology to cheat is nothing new. “Better, then, to weave all the more emphasis on ethics into a course so that students learn, through guidance, how to navigate these new waters,” Malan said.
The course has always implemented software, Malan says, but the addition of artificial intelligence is an “evolution of that tradition.” Not everyone thinks this evolution is a good thing, though. Martin Rand, co-founder and CEO of software company PactumAI, warned of the downsides of the new development at Harvard.
“I would say the dangers are that we have to consider that these are statistical models. These will come up with most probable answers and high probability can also mean mediocrity,” Rand told Fox in an interview. “So professors need to be there to provide exceptionalism, and I think Harvard has taken the right approach in providing this only to introductory courses.”
Malan said he doesn’t expect the chatbot to be without issues in the fall semester, telling the Crimson that it will “underperform or even err.”
“We’ll make clear to students that they should always think critically when taking in information as input, be it from humans or software,” Malan said, adding that the technology will continue to improve with student and faculty feedback.