Noam Chomsky on ChatGPT: It’s “Basically High-Tech Plagiarism” and “a Way of Avoiding Learning”

ChatGPT, the system that understands natural language and responds in kind, has caused a sensation since its launch less than three months ago. If you’ve tried it out, you’ll surely have wondered what it will soon revolutionize — or, as the case may be, what it will destroy. Among ChatGPT’s first victims, holds one now-common view, will be a form of writing that generations have grown up practicing throughout their education. “The essay, in particular the undergraduate essay, has been the center of humanistic pedagogy for generations,” writes Stephen Marche in The Atlantic. “It is the way we teach children how to research, think, and write. That entire tradition is about to be disrupted from the ground up.”

If ChatGPT becomes able instantaneously to whip up a plausible-sounding academic essay on any given topic, what future could there be for the academic essay itself? The host of YouTube channel EduKitchen puts more or less that very question to Noam Chomsky — a thinker who can be relied upon for views on education — in the new interview above. “For years there have been programs that have helped professors detect plagiarized essays,” Chomsky says. “Now it’s going to be more difficult, because it’s easier to plagiarize. But that’s about the only contribution to education that I can think of.” He does admit that ChatGPT-style systems “may have some value for something,” but “it’s not obvious what.”

As the relevant technology now stands, Chomsky sees the use of ChatGPT as “basically high-tech plagiarism” and “a way of avoiding learning.” He likens its rise to that of the smartphone: many students “sit there having a chat with somebody on their iPhone. One way to deal with that is to ban iPhones; another way to do it is to make the class interesting.” That students instinctively employ high technology to avoid learning is “a sign that the educational system is failing.” If it “has no appeal to students, doesn’t interest them, doesn’t challenge them, doesn’t make them want to learn, they’ll find ways out,” just as he himself did when he borrowed a friend’s notes to pass a dull college chemistry class without attending it back in 1945.

After spending most of his career teaching at MIT, Chomsky retired in 2002 to become a full-time public intellectual. The University of Houston’s Robert Zaretsky, who still teaches, recently offered his own, grimmer take on ChatGPT and education. “The college essay died years ago,” he argues. “It’s a mug’s game in which a student sends me an electronic file that, when open, spills out a jumble of words that the sender propounds to be a finished paper” — to which, presumably, the output of a machine-learning system would actually be far preferable. Most technological “disruptions” leave both positive and negative effects in their wake. If the college essay is indeed unsalvageable, perhaps ChatGPT will finally bring about its replacement with something more interesting.

Update: Chomsky has co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times called “The False Promise of ChatGPT”. Find it here.

Related content:

Noam Chomsky Explains Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong

ChatGPT Writes a Song in the Style of Nick Cave–and Nick Cave Calls it “a Grotesque Mockery of What It Is to Be Human”

Noam Chomsky Defines What It Means to Be a Truly Educated Person

Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, You Can Now Chat with Historical Figures: Shakespeare, Einstein, Austen, Socrates & More

Noam Chomsky Spells Out the Purpose of Education

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

by | Permalink | Comments (51) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (51)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • naren kini says:

    Too often asking octagenarians to opine on technology leads to a predictable result. They frame it based on their world view which is now obsolete. That is understandable. What is not is why anyone would publish their response.

  • Dennis says:

    Seems like the remedy could be replacing essays with face to face question and answer sessions. It shouldn’t take very long to determine who has actually learned the material in question. Perhaps chatgpt gets me through college, but I’m not sure how it helps me during a face to face job interview.

  • garland says:

    this just in, crossing an arbitrary age threshold instills one with a ‘world view’ that invalidates all opinion.

    considering that this very obvious opinion re: this tech is shared by representatives of any generation, it would follow that all ‘world views” are obsolete based on your logic. your shoddy attempt at arguing a point only supports the named speaker’s contention that learning avoidance is a persistent trend.

  • Joe says:

    It’s frickin’ Chomsky you’re asking, not a grandad that doesn’t understand smartphones.

  • Jon Snowden says:

    Really hoped good’ol Noam gets the beginning of this “new age”. Apparently not.

    Doesn’t matter, he’s been right a lot of times in the past, which is enough for me.

    True hero of our time.

  • Michael says:

    I agree with him fully and I’m young and have heard Chomsky speak on this subject. He’s more aware of the ins and outs of these systems than the tech journalists that hype them up as something that they’re not.

  • Ben says:

    How nuanced and profetic smh. Overrated scientist

  • Adam says:

    This is what he’s chosen to say about it as America’s leading expert on linguistics and scientific methodology.

  • Peter says:

    It is great that Chomsky came out with this argument, and warning. Yeah, there have been a lot of criticisms of Chat GPT the last 2+ months, but given that we live in an age when “technology”, for all the good it does for us, occupies a kinda metaphysical role in the world, as if every new tech thing is good simply because it’s new and technological. Nice to know that the man who gave us “generative grammar”, one of the most important linguistic insights, weigh in on “generative AI”!

  • Arek says:

    Chomsky himself is a poor learner. He has been a contrarian revisionist in regards to conflicts in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria and Ukraine.

  • Gary Lawson says:

    Why did the interviewer waste the first five minutes talking about his haircut, interview routine etc.? Annoying.

  • Maarten says:

    Nonsense, just another old fossil stuck in the past. Tools like chatgpt are a better teacher than any human teacher I’ve ever had.. It’s free, quick, knows more and has 100% focus on me and my question(s) and explains things very well. I think people like gnome should really try to use it first, it’ll make the entire education system obsolete, barring a few very specific studies.

  • Yanga says:

    Stoneage did not end because we ran out of stones, humans simple found a new and better way of doing things. May be chatGPT, and AI in general is just a new way of doing things(including learning). We just need to adapt to its development, something humans have been doing throughout the ages.

  • BarrioInvisible says:

    One of the most brilliant minds in history isn’t worth listening to? Ok, bro.

  • Davide Bannerman Sinclair says:

    Look forward to reading all your published works in the very near future! Go, bro, you got this!

  • Dennis L says:

    Like any tool it’s value is in how it’s applied. And there is no way of stopping it. Those who will use it as a crutch will be like those who can’t do math but can plug numbers into a calculator. How much impact that lack of understanding core principles of discerning best sources, the proper means of mustering an argument, rhetorical strategies, the proper fashioning of language to content will harm them in terms of career or general social interaction may be minimal. In fact, a facility at leveraging these AI based tools may help them excel in a simplified and simple-minded transactional culture. And there are good uses for ChatGPT, especially for those with the discernment to point it at the right problems and to assess the results. But the bigger impact will be to the simple nature of being human. Without strength in the skills old-fashioned essay writing created in students (who took on the actual task and didn’t use low-tech tools to bypass all of the above), those students are reducing their human capacity for reason, investigation, understanding, and the communication of their thoughts and feelings. That may be a shame, it may even be a death knell for our culture, but it will be part of the future if these tools are not properly controlled and utilized.

  • Edwin Chiumya says:

    Well, when they were first introduced, same thing was said about calculators, google and scholar search engines and computers generally, that they would make brick and mortar libraries extinct. Newer more efficient ways of getting information have never replaced a college education if only because essays only constitute a small part of the overall grade for most classes. Besides, students still have to contend with attending class for at least four years before graduating and will come away with some much needed critical thinking skills imperative to succeeding in different careers. I think we will be fine and the sky is not falling just yet.

  • Dilawar Habibi says:

    Is it free? It wouldn’t let me do things I wanted, unless I pay $19.99 per month.
    Can you tell us how do get it for free?

  • Efrosini Drimoussis says:

    I have heard that openAI will retain all material produced and somehow make it available to schools/institutions to scan for plagiarism. Not sure if accurate and/or possible, but I am optimistic educators will find a way to deal with this problem.
    As to lazy learners, we are not all as clever as Chomsky and tools like AI may help us accomplish more. I have two university degrees (including engineering MSc), so while not lazy, I’m also not brilliant, and I feel this may help me learn/do more.

  • peter stanley says:

    chatGPT and the hype is not worthy. It doesnt interface with the internet, just some encyclopedia. It doesnt know how to react with abuse or sexual attention. Even Dr Sbaitso was more fun. At least it kbows the difference between g code and g spot. If i were an instructor prompting essays, i would see right thru kids using chatgpt. Just make them write the essay on paper. Let the best calligraphy win lol

  • Neil Krane. says:

    Ageist twerp!

    Imbecile, Chomsky is a nonagenarian.

  • Justin says:

    Agree on all points.

  • Glenn Montague says:

    This is 100% correct. And the reason it is done is because the answer the interviewer knows they will get supports the interviewers agenda.

  • Sowmya Jess says:

    The man puts it brilliantly! His age defying brain is capable of an astonishing astuteness that neuroscientists should try to unravel. I have tried Chat GPT. It can produce cleverly crafted plagiarism at the speed of light and it will take an intelligent mind to detect the lack of originality. It can never come up with a “ Crime snd Punishment “ or a “ Mill on the Floss” or an “ Innocents abroad”. It can write a cheap thriller but it will never produce a great “ original “ literary work. With students resorting to this to write essays, human creativity will ebb and die. What it has done is perfect the art of human plagiarism.

  • Vijay says:

    Old gen search engine programs are information processing system.

    Chatgpt is carrying huge burden as it is from intelligence family.

    Each step of pagerank or other similar technology was controlled and guided by programmer, system designer. That’s domain specific intelligence poured in by human. Chatgpt /current gen intelligence models are based on general purpose problem solver evolved in last 80 yrs, but again that intelligence is poured in by human.

    Pagerank can not be called plagiarism, but if someone claims self intelligence, it would face question of plagiarism.

    Human preferred to use machine from centuries. And definately it limits our learning in some area. Somehow this crazy creature bounce back with new way of learning. It’s same as I lost energy to walk miles because of horse and then aeroplane.

  • MrPrentiss says:

    I think it’s plagiarism in much the same way as using a calculator is. No one gets upset anymore if you use a calculator. It didn’t cause the end of math. Educators that get out in front of this technology and teach it in the classroom are the only right thinkers. People who want to figure out ways to try to ban it are myopic and reactionary. Embrace it, teach with it. It’s not going anywhere, neither is the calculator.

  • Michael says:

    A few thoughts:

    It’s clear Chomsky has not attended a college course as a student in a long time. He seems unaware at how infrequent an essay is requested in many fields. I can count on one hand the number of essays I wrote in college, and that was in the 90s. Essays are only applicable in a few social studies that don’t generally have actionable tasks (e.g. regurgitate knowledge rather than solve this problem).

    There’s no sense in perfecting skills which will be obsolete. Just like folks are saying with calculators. In the future, no one is going to professionally write an essay: it takes way too long and likely isn’t as well understood by others as you think it is. Your first draft will always be a chat AI.

    People who thrive, including teachers, will be the ones who embrace change. This is true with calculators, then computers/laptops; typing over handwriting; open notes over closed book; and soon to be, chat AI over essays. It’s not good or bad: it just is.

    It’s true that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’m already feeling that myself and I’m only half his age.

  • mschribr says:

    Chomsky is not thinking clearly. It’s only plagiarism or cheating if I pass it off as my own. He says it’s not obvious what value chat gpt has. How about being the ultimate teacher? Chat gpt teaches at your level. It will teach in any format you ask, a poem, pirate, gangster or Shakespeare. It knows everything. Is always available and patient. Plagiarism has always been a problem. A student can get his friend to write the essay. If you want students to write essays, then write it on a test, not a homework.

  • RasmusR says:

    ChatGPT doesn’t know what’s true. It goes off what it thinks sounds like language in the requested format. It frequently claimed to me that 3+4=6.

    It has to be restrained due to the amount of misinformation available on the internet. It would spout antisemitic nonsense when asked about the jews, because nobody writes more about the jews than the antisemites.

  • Tom McLernon says:

    I agree with the assessment. It is very good at regurgating material, but using that material to logically deduct some new discovery or postulation not so good.

  • David says:

    A calculator doesn’t prevent you from learning calculus

  • Chris Joseph says:

    NoamGPT is a trusted expert system based on a biological platform, and nearly a century of training data

  • Daniel says:

    Honestly, any academic who’s fooled by a ChatGPT essay isn’t qualified to teach. Like that song in the “style” of Nick Cave, what passes for a ChatGPT essay reads stilted and half-baked, is full of clichés and bereft of actual developed original ideas. And it usually just gets it wrong. If a student passes in an essay suspected to be written by AI can’t you just test its legitimacy by asking them to explain their argument? I wouldn’t worry that the sky is falling just yet.

  • Tim says:

    It’s a relative ideology to label ChatGPT in this manner, as for everyone it’s different with their unique backgrounds.

    For me ChatGPT is. . .

    1.A teacher that will NEVER get mad at you no matter how many questions you ask.

    2.A teacher I CAN ask ANYTHING at ANYTIME and get an in-depth response because they are NOT going through a divorce, an alcoholic, caught up in scandals, doing drugs, hungover, have events to attend and a substitute teacher NOT qualified in the field and trying to teach you when all they are doing is basically babysitting you until your teacher returns. ALSO a teacher who is’t outdated in their field as with extensions ChatGPT can look at updated internet data in seconds rather than having to take recertification classes to try and catch up.

    3.A teacher that nourishes ones learning style and does NOT criticize it.

    4.A teacher who helps is literally an introverts best friend.

    5.A teacher who can one on one brainstorm with you on ANY subject and won’t say “That’s out of my field, as it can access 1,000s of different fields.

    6.A teacher that does NOT treat students like #$%&, unlike real teachers that have tenure. So ChatGPT is always kind a courteous. (Basically for anyone that goes to criticize my message here or any typos I do. And no ChatGPT isn’t writing my message to all the haters.)

    7.A teacher who has taught my child more than I ever could in helping him progress even further because we home school and he’s learning already at a high school level at age 8, but ChatGPT is helping us push his academics in an even better way.

    8.The list is endless. . .

    And I’m not hating, but it seems like it’s a situation where teachers are scared of being replaced. Well, they will and should be. I still remember tot his day of my 3rd grade teacher coming in, from what I know now was a hangover, and telling all the children, again children to “Shut the #$%& up.”. I almost failed her class, actually all x30+ students were all almost held back that year, Well if AI takes over, #$%& teachers won’t exist anymore. Everyone will have an equal opportunity to learn one on one. I’m for that.

  • James says:

    I don’t agree, I think it’s a great resource FOR learning. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve started using it so to say it’s something that avoids learning is kinda ridiculous to me

  • Robert McGee says:

    I’m old enough to remember when TV was new and the same discussions were taking place. Arguments ranged from TV ruining society to being a high powered teaching tool that would propel us into the future. This happened again with the internet. I’m fully aware of the evils of today’s technology, but I wouldn’t want to go back to a world like it was before TV. Thus, I’m fascinated and excited about AI, but fully expect it to unleash societal horrors we can’t even imagine yet.

  • Sirpnie says:

    Of course AI isn’t going go to be really possible to regulate. But it can help with learning. Just like how the printing press made it so books were viable. To libraries. To TV. To many other things. Essays? Who care? Well not government employees having to make hundreds on relatively custom emails that they can have AI write then they proof read it. Take a hour plus thing to a few minutes. If it comes to science, peer review. Problem solved. If it’s purely for teaching critical thinking, well just find newer and better ways that can use Ai together. There’s more to thought than writing an essay.

    I can see the reasons for worry though. Like what do you do when poems are best written by AI? We aren’t there yet sure. what about when AI is all you need to make games? It’s an understandable fear to see your passion be at risk. It will be easier to do all sorts of immoral things. But just like with most tech, the use determines the morality. Hopefully it remains mostly a tool. It’s still at the tool stage.

    We hopefully aren’t close to sentient AI because then that’s a whole new ballgame where you gotta figure out rights for AI because, well, they would be able to feel and experience the cruel things done to them in the way we do. Humans already struggle with shutting down things that resembles a sentient AI let alone a real one that you can actually communicate with.

  • GLR says:

    ChatGPT makes life easy and also leads to early dementia and early death Your choice bros who go with chatGPT

  • George says:

    Oh, look, everybody.

    It’s the abject, disgusting soviet immigrant who can’t stop criticising the same regime his family walked on corpses and sold their souls to be a part of and live under!
    Champagne socialism truly bever gets old.

    But wait, it gets better! the hardcore socialist is now telling us about his conservative opinions regarding studying.

    Truly, many people are good liars and abject opportunists, but no one holds a candle to the Russians.

  • Clive Appleby says:

    Education is a challenge to many. This is why ai ethics are a concern. Thankfully the business ethics white paper is nearing its completion and some interested industries have begun to address this concern from the software e and hardware industries.

    Most people won’t notice the difference but Grammerly alone already has some ethics in its grammar tools Next is MS Office, and the nice folks at Google and essentially everyone in tech will get the option to add an industry standard ethnics module to their software and hardware.

    It’s about finding a middle ground with anti-plagiarism at the core and a whole host of other sectors like education systems.

  • Jannie Pretorius says:

    If you steal from one person, it’s called theft. If you steal from many people, and mention their names, it’s called research. Ha!

  • mschribr says:

    RasmusR, I have been using chatgpt. I have not seen those problems. It is still in the testing phase. If it does have these problems when the testing phase is over than people will use something else.

  • Wokkel says:

    Ask that to one of my kids…

  • Themerc says:

    If ChatGpt is a way to stop learning, that would mean writing essays and memorization is learning. Which it isn’t.

  • Youssef TIRIZITE says:

    I think we can also use it to augment learning. The problem lies in our evaluation methods, not technology.

  • Euyre says:

    It’s obvious that ChatGPT doesn’t understand anything it’s saying. Language that is devoid of experiential reference has no meaning — it’s just circular math.

    If a dark “mind” only knows that bleeph leads to bramph and dorhskj, it knows nothing. Language with meaning to its hearers and speakers REQUIRES a world external to it, a world of objects and dynamics that can be represented by objects and dynamics of language. A symbol needs a referent, or it is not a symbol.

    Truly intelligent AI will have to be able in some way to have an experience of the world we share. It must perceive similar inputs that humans perceive in order to speak creatively (symbolically) with humans, rather than merely “speak” “predictively” (as in blindly mathematically).

  • Richard Kelly says:

    Too often ignorant young people offer opinions/responses to opinions with data/understanding insufficient to merit valuable opinion/thought – this is made worse when non-standard/uncommon words are used to reinforce…and they’re the wrong words.

    Case in point? Noam Chomsky is 94, which makes him a nonagenarian.

    To judge his opinion to be without value, you should/must understand it and evaluate it on it’s merits – or you could have a ham-handed attempt at an ad hominem attack, which diminishes any merit your comments or case may have had even further.

    Try reading or listening to some of his comments with an open mind – he’s studied the subjects of consciousness and human intelligence, among others for over 70 years – it’s very foolish to throw his opinion out undigested.

  • skyman mentalist says:

    Hopefully you won’t stop the flow of such magical material!

  • Sve7en says:

    He’s 94, not 84.
    We’ve got stop incorrectly labeling people as ‘old’ then dismissing their thoughts. When someone shares their thoughts, they aren’t edicts one must follow – they are contributions to a deeper conversation.

  • Guy Lewis says:


  • ahmad ali says:


    Good day!

    I’m reaching out to check if you are accepting content from guest contributors on your blog ( ) . We are trying to establish ourselves as a trustworthy brand and we think the best way to do that is through quality content.

    So, if you accept blog posts on your websites, share the details, please.


Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.