A plagiarism war has erupted since Claudine Gay announced her resignation from Harvard University. After Business Insider suggested Neri Oxman—a prominent MIT grad and wife of billionaire philanthropist William Ackman—had plagiarized in her dissertation, Ackman promised to leverage AI capabilities to review the published work of all of MIT’s faculty, its president and the work of the faculties at other Ivy Leagues.
“No body of written work in academia can survive the power of AI searching for missing quotation marks, failures to paraphrase appropriately, and/or the failure to properly credit the work of others,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
The power of AI to target vast bodies of academic work for the most minor errors has higher education leaders fearing the politicization of plagiarism. Some believe that minor defects in academic writing, which can still count as academic dishonesty, may distract from more egregious examples of misconduct.
“Once we open that part of the hood of the car, I have no idea how many people will be found to have unintentionally cited or paraphrased or whatever, things that might trip a wire. It’s totally unpredictable,” said Michael Berube, an author and professor of literature at Penn State University, according to Government Technology.
AI can be used now to help detect plagiarism at a higher rate. And our perceptions of plagiarism and academic dishonesty appear due for an overhaul. AI detectors like Turnitin and GPTZero are turning in false positives on students’ use of AI, and it is quickly becoming harder for educators to determine how often their students are using the tool.
Annie Chechitelli, chief product officer of Turnitin, believes we need to move past simple detection. Now, it’s about encouraging students to be transparent about when and how they’re using AI. This, in turn, will push teachers to create more rigorous assignments.
“There is writing that goes to show you know how to write, and then there’s writing that’s used as the vehicle to prove you’ve thought through your stance on something,” she says. “The idea of having thoughts defending thoughts in one’s own original thinking has to be preserved.”
She compared the prominence of AI-assisted writing to the massive overhaul in the copyrighting industry: As half-human, half-technological papers continue to be turned in, it will soon become impossible to discern the author.
“The interesting thing we’ll soon be looking at is the unknown. Is AI going to start plagiarizing [its writing]? At what point does it start repeating? When there is less human writing on the internet, what will that mean? I think this is still the beginning of understanding how AI generative writing becomes part of what people do and how we do it.”