In 1770, the Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen built an elaborate mechanical chess-playing automaton that beat human opponents and was the talk of the European courts.
The machine was, in fact, operated by a human chess master concealed inside a hidden cabinet. Von Kempelen was exposed as a fraudster and cheat.
It was not the first or last time there have been accusations of cheating in chess.
The latest cries of foul play centre around the match between 32-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen (currently triple world champion) and the 20-year-old American Grandmaster Hans Niemann.
In September, Carlsen, the World Chess Champion since 2013, resigned unexpectedly while playing against Niemann in the sixth round of the Julius Baer Generation Cup. After a week of silence, he explained his reason.
"I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted," Carlsen said.
Chess.com investigated Niemann, and published a 72-page report that claims he probably received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games, so contradicting a previous statement by Niemann that he cheated only twice before.
Of course, cheating in sport is nothing new. The Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for using steroids shortly after winning the 1988 Olympic 100m final, and was unceremoniously stripped of his gold medal.
There have been doping scandals in cycling, accusations of match-fixing in boxing and football – not to mention players routinely diving and pretending they’ve been fouled in an attempt to win a penalty, even when VAR can reveal them as cheats.
Young children routinely cheat. If you observe infants, they will regularly seek to hide the truth, and claim they have not done something they have clearly done in order to get what they want.
The concepts of integrity and honour are not innate in human beings. They need to be learnt. They are social codes slowly imposed on and gradually acquired by individuals whose instincts might otherwise lead them towards selfishness and deceit.
Similarly, fairness and justice have always been political ideals rather than a reflection of reality. If these traits were natural for human beings, we would not need so many lawyers in the world.
And what about cheating in examinations? This will always be a temptation for some, both for weaker students who struggle with tests, but also for those who are highly ambitious and desperately competitive, willing to take any opportunity to gain an advantage.
Woody Allen once joked that he cheated in his Metaphysics exam by looking into the soul of the boy next to him.
Old-fashioned methods, such as retrieving notes left in the toilet, smuggling in bits of paper, or consulting notes written on the arm have been superseded by the advent of smart phones and smart watches.
But even smart phones seem outdated now compared to the technology made available by the AI app known as ChatGPT.
This kind of AI, known as generative AI, makes any request for students to do essay-style assignments problematic because the app can produce seemingly fluent and fully developed essays upon the mere entry of a simple prompt.
If you enter a line such as “Tell me about Garibaldi” the AI will compose an essay about the life and times of the Italian hero that is good enough to be mistaken for having been written entirely by human hands.
Furthermore, and importantly, the essay produced will not be a duplicate or copy of something already written on the same topic and available elsewhere on the net. The essay will seem to be “original” as far as any marker is concerned.
So, students asked to write an assignment can now merely open one of these generative AI apps, enter a prompt, et voila! – their entire essay will be written for them in a nano-second. All they have to do is cut and paste the automatically-generated text into a document, put their name on it, and present it as their own work.
Apps capable of discriminating between AI and human-generated content are being developed, but the chances of a teacher being able to recognise that the essay is written by AI are slim, especially if the quality of the essay is calibrated to a level close to that of the student’s own – a function of the more sophisticated apps.
You won’t expect me to approve of this, and I do not. Technologically, generative AI apps will have positive uses, but they also represent a dangerous development, not only because they breach the codes of honour and integrity which we try to instil in our students, but for another reason.
If students come to rely on this type of technology, then one day when it is not available, and they need to think for themselves, they will be at a loss.
You may know the story of the young chick being born and the consequences of someone breaking the eggshell to allow it an easier passage into the world. The young chick develops vital muscle strength from the act of breaking the shell itself.
To help it in this process can cause great harm to the chick, whose development is fatally compromised. In fact, the vast majority of chicks helped to hatch from the egg will die.
The same is true academically for students if everything is done for them. They need to work things out for themselves in order to gain the necessary intellectual skills and ability to think independently. If they are helped too much, or resort to cheating, then a vital developmental stage will be lost.
Examination boards will soon need to respond to the threat of generative AI apps. In the meantime, we will do what we can to prevent the use of these tools, and to ensure that students gain their qualifications fairly.
We ask parents to support us so that students can continue to develop personally, intellectually, and morally. As Hans Niemann and Wolfgang von Kempelen might tell you, there is nothing more ignominious than presenting yourself as a genius, only later to be revealed as a cheat.
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