The question of whether or not something is really plagiarism if an AI writes it has sparked heated debates in academic, journalistic and content creation circles. Now that AI can write human-like text, the lines between what constitutes an original human thought and what AI can generate from its machine learning patterns are becoming more and more blurred.
The fact is, there is no one singular answer to this question. It’s deeper and more complex than it might seem and trying to answer it means we need to look deeper at several factors, including what plagiarism is, the intent of the writer and the ethics of using text generated by AI.
In order to do a deep dive into this question, we have to first look at what plagiarism is from a foundational point of view.
What Exactly is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else’s words, ideas, expressions or their entire work as your own without proper references or citations. Understandably, plagiarism violates ethical standards in many academic and professional settings and can lead to severe penalties including academic failure and expulsion or legal and financial consequences.
In the past, this “someone else” was always another human being. The writings of AI and other similar tools weren’t factored into the equation because up until this point they couldn’t match what a human could produce. That being said, with new advances in machine learning algorithms, content training and new AI developments, AI-generated text both ticks many of the boxes to be considered plagiarism – but not all.
This means that AI is entering into a new frontier at the crossroads of content creation and credibility where there are no definitive answers. Below you’ll note several arguments for and against the classification of AI writing as plagiarism. Which would you side with?
Why AI-Generated Content Might Not Be Considered Plagiarism
There are several reasons why one might not consider AI-generated text to be plagiarism, including:
Lack of Intent
One of the underpinning arguments for something to be plagiarism in the first place is a person's intent to deceive and claim someone else's work as their own.. As artificial intelligence only generates text, there’s no conscious intent behind the action, which makes it difficult to categorize it as plagiarism.
No Direct Copying
When an AI generates text, the result is a combination of algorithms that are trained on a wide range of datasets, rather than something that intentionally and directly copies existing, human-created content. The AI pulls together information to create new text based on information it was trained on, and with this in mind, it could be considered a type of “original” creation even though it was done by a machine.
Context and Customization Potential
Another reason that proponents of AI insist that its creations aren’t plagiarism is that the text it creates can be highly specific based on the query or prompt it is given. This can create enough distinction between the AI’s output and whatever original text it was trained on, to eliminate the question of plagiarism.
With all of these points being said, there are just as many arguments on the opposing side to sway your opinion toward AI-generated content being considered plagiarism, including:
Trained on Human Content
Although AI “writes” text based on algorithms, the algorithms themselves have been developed based on human content. One could say that this output is a derivative of all of the human-created text that the AI has been exposed to, which cuts into the originality of those texts.
Attempt to Deceive
If someone presents AI-generated content as their own without mentioning the use of AI, it could harm their credibility and even have far-reaching implications into the authenticity of their content. Some may believe that using the output of a machine is engaging in plagiarism.
Using AI to “write” academic papers, professional articles, website content or any other type of content that normally would require human thought and experience can raise ethical questions. It could call into question the integrity of the content as a whole which might also affect the brand’s ability to be perceived as a thought leader in their industry.
The Answer: It’s a Gray Area
Currently there is no clear-cut answer to the question of “is it really plagiarism if an AI writes it?” Norms and what’s considered acceptable both in academia and in the professional world are changing and shifting. AI generated text may not qualify as plagiarism based on the key points we use to judge whether or not something is plagiarism (intent to deceive, algorithmically-generated content), but ethical concerns come into play when the text is used as a substitute for human creativity and originality of thought.
It remains to be seen whether or not there will ultimately be a definitive answer to this question, but as it stands right now, the answer depends on the context and what the AI-generated text will be used for. As AI continues to evolve, discussions and regulations will continue to do so as well.
It's likely that academic institutions, regulatory bodies, content creators and AI labs will need to work together in order to establish some set of guidelines that address the challenges presented by AI as it pertains to content creation.
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