Season 2 Episode 13

Hello, this is Sean. Welcome back to Ethos English, the podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them. I’m very happy to report that I’ve finally recovered from my Christmas cold and back to my old self after spending a couple of weeks in the doldrums, that is, feeling kind of down.

Don’t forget that you’ll find a full text version of the show including links to all of the readings I mention in the show notes. As I go along I paraphrase vocabulary you might have trouble with. At the end of the episode I go over each item with a full definition and an example. Don’t forget that I send out a monthly newsletter with a Quizlet flashcard set to help you memorise the vocabulary covered in each episode. All you have to do is go to the show notes at EthosEnglish.com/podcast and you’ll be prompted to sign up. One final thing before we begin, rating me and giving me a written review, especially on Apple Podcasts, is a very meaningful way in which you can help me grow the podcast and reach new listeners. If you’re interested in more content feel free to follow me on Instagram at EthosEnglishWithSean. Now, on with the show!

In the past month or so there’s been a flurry of articles, videos and blog posts on the impact of the new artificial intelligence platform referred to as ChatGPT. When we say that there’s a flurry of something, we mean that there’s suddenly a lot of activity and people are busy doing something. Just as we can say that there’s been a flurry of articles, we can say that there’s been a flurry of activity, a flurry of interest, a flurry of excitement. What’s more, the verbs we often use in this context include prompt, unleash and spark. So, we could say that ChatGPT has prompted a flurry of media stories about AI, that is, Chat GPT has brought about or led to a large number of news stories in a short period of time.   

Now, back in episode 10 I discussed its potential use as a teaching and learning tool, and on the whole was pretty optimistic about its impact. Unsurprisingly though, educators have a whole host of concerns to do with academic honesty, that is, they have a large number of concerns, and are worried that this new technology will allow students to cheat much more easily. So it was with great interest that I read a BBC news story about a 22 year-old undergraduate computer science student by the name of Edward Tian who has discovered a way to outwit ChatGPT. If you outwit someone, or in this case, something, you get an advantage over them or it by acting more cleverly and often by using a trick. In the BBC article, the link to which you’ll find in the show notes at EthosEnglish.com/podcast, Mr. Tian says the following:

“This technology is only going to get better and better, AI is here to stay. This is the future.”

I thought this was worth quoting word for word, because this quotation contains a very common chunk in English, namely “be here to stay”. If something is here to stay, we mean that it has stopped being unusual and has become generally used or accepted. 

Edward Tian, a native of Toronto and undergraduate student at Princeton University, spent his winter break creating the app GPTZero, which is able to tell with a high degree of accuracy if a text was written by AI or by a human. Apparently two variables, referred to as perplexity and burstiness in the BBC article, allow the app to tell AI and human texts apart with a margin of error of only two per cent. It’s worth pointing out that Tian himself is not against the use of AI and has used it to write computer code, but does believe in the need for safeguards against misuse. A safeguard is a law, rule or something that is done to protect someone or something from harm or damage. 

Apparently one of the main differences between AI-generated text and human text is that people tend to vary the length of their sentences more than AI does. After reading this it occurred to me that software engineers will be updating ChatGPT to more closely imitate this feature of human writing and in no time GPTZero will be rendered ineffective. 

As we say, only time will tell. But I’m cautiously optimistic about the potential for this new technology. What about you, what do you think? Send me an email or voice note to Sean@EthosEnglish.com and I might include your opinion in next week’s show. If you’d rather remain anonymous just let me know and I’ll quote you without using your real name.

Anyway, let’s get to this week’s vocabulary:  

be in the doldrums: (informal) a period of being sad or bored and with no energy or enthusiasm

She got a new puppy and that lifted her right out of the doldrums.

a flurry of something: a time when there is suddenly a lot of activity and people are very busy

We often talk about a flurry of interest, excitement or activity

It often collocates with the verbs prompt, unleash and spark.

ChatGPT has prompted a flurry of news stories about the impact of AI.

a host of something/a whole host of something: a large number of people or things, synonym: a range of – somewhat formal

The volunteers cared for wounded soldiers and performed a host of other duties.

Another way of saying a range of.

undergraduate: a student at college or university who is working for their first degree

We can use this as both a noun and an adjective, which means we can talk about undergraduates or undergraduate students.

They met when they were undergraduates at Cambridge.

outwit someone/something: gain an advantage over someone using tricks or clever plans

The wolf was legendary as it had outwitted hunters for years.

be here to stay: If something is here to stay, it has stopped being unusual and has become generally used or accepted.

Whether we like it or not social media is here to stay.

repeat something word for word: in exactly the same words

The newspaper reprinted her speech word for word.

tell: know something or be able to recognise something because of certain signs that show this

Shockingly, many people are unable to tell if the text was written by a person or a computer.

tell two things apart: if you can tell two people or things apart, you can see the difference between them, so that you do not confuse them. synonym: distinguish

It’s almost impossible to tell the twins apart.

in no time: (informal) very soon or very quickly

We’ll be home in no time.

render: (formal) cause someone or something to be in a particular state

He was rendered almost speechless by the news.

only time will tell: used to say that at some time in the future it will become clear whether or not something is true, right, etc.

Only time will tell if the treatment has been successful.

be cautiously optimistic: feeling that there are some reasons to hope for a good result, even if you do not expect complete success or improvement

The legislation doesn’t contain the sweeping changes we had hoped for, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Thanks for listening and see you next week!

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