Ethical Implications of ChatGPT

The increasing popularity of generative AI tools like ChatGPT raises questions about the ethical implications of their use. Key concerns include:

  • Biased and inaccurate outputs
  • Privacy violations
  • Plagiarism and cheating
  • Copyright infringement

Understanding these issues can help you use AI tools responsibly.

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Ethical implication 1: Biased and inaccurate outputs

ChatGPT was trained on a vast number of sources, some of which contain obvious biases. As a result, the tool sometimes produces outputs that reflect these biases (e.g., racial or gender stereotypes). The tool has also been criticised for its tendency to produce inaccurate or false information as though it were factual.

Furthermore, there is a lack of transparency about the sources the tool was trained on and about its decision-making processes (i.e., it’s unclear how it arrives at certain outputs).

It’s important for users to be aware of the limitations of ChatGPT and check all the information it provides against a credible source.

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Ethical implication 2: Privacy violations

ChatGPT conversations are stored for the purposes of training future models. Therefore, if a user inputs personal details (or false information) about themselves or another person into ChatGPT, it may be reproduced by the tool in its later outputs.

Users should be careful about the information they choose to input and refrain from including sensitive information about themselves or others.

To prevent the content of your conversations from being included in future training material, you can manually disable your chat history and request that OpenAI delete your past conversations.

Ethical implication 3: Plagiarism and cheating

In academic contexts, ChatGPT and other AI tools may be used to cheat. This can be intentional or unintentional. Some of the ways ChatGPT may be used to cheat include:

  • Passing off AI-generated content as original work
  • Paraphrasing plagiarised content and passing it off as original work
  • Fabricating data to support your research

Using ChatGPT to cheat is academically dishonest and is prohibited by university guidelines. Furthermore, it’s unfair to students who didn’t cheat and is potentially dangerous (e.g., if published work contains incorrect information or fabricated data).

AI detectors may be used to detect this offence.

ChatGPT is trained on a variety of sources, many of which are protected by copyright. As a result, ChatGPT may reproduce copyrighted content in its outputs. This is not only an ethical issue but also a potential legal issue.

OpenAI states that users are responsible for the content of outputs, meaning that users may be liable for copyright issues that arise from the use (e.g., publication) of ChatGPT outputs.

This is problematic because ChatGPT is unable to provide citations for the sources it was trained on, so it can be difficult for the user to know when copyright has been infringed.

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How to use ChatGPT ethically

When used correctly, ChatGPT and other AI writing tools can be helpful resources for improving your academic writing and research skills. The following tips can help you use ChatGPT ethically:

  • Follow your institution’s guidelines: Consult your university’s policy about the use of AI writing tools and stay up to date with any changes.
  • Acknowledge your use of ChatGPT: Be transparent about how you’ve used the tool. This may involve citing ChatGPT or providing a link to your conversation.
  • Critically evaluate outputs: Don’t take ChatGPT outputs at face value. Always verify information using a credible source.
  • Use it as a source of inspiration: If allowed by your institution, use AI-generated outputs as a source of guidance rather than as a substitute for your own work (e.g., use ChatGPT to generate potential research questions).
Universities and other institutions are still developing their stances on how ChatGPT and similar tools may be used. Always follow your institution’s guidelines over any suggestions you read online. Check out our guide to current university policies on AI writing for more information.

Frequently asked questions

Is using ChatGPT ethical?

ChatGPT and other AI writing tools can have unethical uses. These include:

  • Reproducing biases and false information
  • Using ChatGPT to cheat in academic contexts
  • Violating the privacy of others by inputting personal information

However, when used correctly, AI writing tools can be helpful resources for improving your academic writing and research skills. Some ways to use ChatGPT ethically include:

  • Following your institution’s guidelines
  • Critically evaluating outputs
  • Being transparent about how you used the tool
Is ChatGPT biased?

ChatGPT can sometimes reproduce biases from its training data, since it draws on the text it has “seen” to create plausible responses to your prompts.

For example, users have shown that it sometimes makes sexist assumptions such as that a doctor mentioned in a prompt must be a man rather than a woman. Some have also pointed out political bias in terms of which political figures the tool is willing to write positively or negatively about and which requests it refuses.

The tool is unlikely to be consistently biased toward a particular perspective or against a particular group. Rather, its responses are based on its training data and on the way you phrase your ChatGPT prompts. It’s sensitive to phrasing, so asking it the same question in different ways will result in quite different answers.

Is ChatGPT a credible source?

No, ChatGPT is not a credible source of factual information and can’t be cited for this purpose in academic writing. While it tries to provide accurate answers, it often gets things wrong because its responses are based on patterns, not facts and data.

Specifically, the CRAAP test for evaluating sources includes five criteria: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. ChatGPT fails to meet at least three of them:

  • Currency: The dataset that ChatGPT was trained on only extends to 2021, making it slightly outdated.
  • Authority: It’s just a language model and is not considered a trustworthy source of factual information.
  • Accuracy: It bases its responses on patterns rather than evidence and is unable to cite its sources.

So you shouldn’t cite ChatGPT as a trustworthy source for a factual claim. You might still cite ChatGPT for other reasons – for example, if you’re writing a paper about AI language models, ChatGPT responses are a relevant primary source.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.

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