What are AI Tools?

To put it simply, AI Tools are programs which can produce content for users based on their inputs (usually called "prompts"). The content they can produce ranges from essays, to code snippets, to political speeches, digital animation, data analysis, and more. Indeed, AI Tools are, in many ways, the equivalent of 3D printers in that they help us skip many of the established "middle steps" most of us are used to in various processes. An AI Tool such as ChatGPT, for example, takes away the burdens of research, notetaking, and compiling that information into "our own words" and simply produces an essay based on our subject of interest. But ChatGPT isn't just any sort of AI Tool, it's what's known as a Generative AI Tool.

What is a Generative AI Tool?

Generative AI Tools are really not much different than any other AI Tool in that they do the same basic things. The difference is that a Generative AI Tool produces new, original content, not just an analysis or compilation. If you ask a traditional AI to give you a animated short film from 1928, it might grab and show you Steamboat Willie. If you ask a Generative AI to do the same, it will make an entirely new animated short film for you, never seen before, in the styles popular during 1928.

This is the type of AI Tool we will be referring to for the rest of this page when we say AI Tools, even though the term can be used more broadly. We do this not just for brevity's sake, but because many of the linked resources and articles do the same thing, so consistent terminology wins out over specificity.

How do they work?

AI Tools work in a similar way to the human brain, although at a much faster rate. While the exact specifics of how each AI Tool works are well-kept secrets, the general process begins with the AI collecting as many examples as it can - usually thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of examples - of what it is expected to produce. From there, it analyzes the examples, breaking them down into smaller parts to figure out how each example compares with the others, and categorizing those results. For example, an AI Tool designed to write screenplays might break down the screenplays it has collected by paragraph. It would then sort each paragraph into categories like "dialogue" and "camera directions" and "setting information." Finally, a user inputs a prompt, and the AI takes what it has from its various categories to produce original content based on what results it thinks best fits that prompt. The more AI Tools are used, and the more data they are given, the more-refined they typically become, better able to produce exactly what a user wants with less-specific prompting.

What are some examples of AI Tools?

  • ChatGPT - Arguably the reason you're reading this page. ChatGPT generates essay-style response to prompts, and can even produce basic code in Javascript, Python, and other coding languages. It is what's known as a "chat bot" because it accepts prompts and replies in a format similar to online chatrooms.
  • Jasper - AI Art and writing generator. Its website boasts that you can "generate months of social media content in minutes" and in 26 languages too.
  • LaMDA - Google's AI Chat bot.
  • MidJourney - An art generator which generates art based on written text. One of several AI Art Generators currently involved in a lawsuit which is said will "determine the future of ai art."
  • OpenAI Codex - Code generator. Takes a written description in natural language and converts it into one of 12 coding languages.
  • Stable Diffusion - Art Generator. One of the first. Also named in the lawsuit against Midjourney.

Why are we talking about AI Tools?

Right now, the big conversation around AI Tools is their effect on higher education. Are AI Tools the future? Are they plagiarism? How do we use them in the classroom? How do we stop students from using them at home? What are they actually capable of? What do I do if AI makes me obsolete?

There are a lot of questions right now, and three times as many answers from all across the educational spectrum. As they are now, it's safe to say that no one's going to lose their job over this anytime soon. AI Tools aren't sophisticated-enough to be error-free, and so they are still easy to detect, often to the untrained eye. Though this won't always be the case, many are looking towards the future, and what AI Tools might mean for instructors and students alike. We at the CTL are working to get you an in-depth analysis of the situation soon, but for now here is a list of resources we've found which help to dissect, explain, and expand on the start we have here. Check back soon for more up-to-date information!