Love it or hate it, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay.

Although the current Artificial Intelligence (AI) craze kicked off in late 2022 when the first zany ChatGPT responses circulated on social media, academics have studied AI for decades.

The power and potential of the technology are clear in how quickly the ChatGPT responses improved. They are now so accurate that there is a cottage industry of apps and software to distinguish AI from content created by humans.

This leap forward made it inevitable that AI would find its way into classrooms, and many in education stopped trying to keep AI out of education, and instead focused on mitigating its impact.

Now, researchers and educators from primary school to university level are asking another question: How can teachers and students use AI to learn and teach better?

Pioneering research and application

Scotland has declared an active interest in AI research and implementation and Scottish universities are at the forefront of the growing industry.

For over 60 years, researchers at The University of Edinburgh have pioneered AI studies.

That commitment to the subject has only increased with the rise of easy-to-use AI software available to the public.

The university recently announced the upcoming launch of a new centre for AI studies, the Generative AI Laboratory. Experts say it will conduct research on the safe usage of AI by businesses, academia and government.

Professor Helen Hastie, Head of the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, said that GAIL will not only advance leadership, research and development for AI but also in safety and ethics.

“The University of Edinburgh is in prime position to advance in this field, given our critical mass of experts, particularly in natural language processing and machine learning.”

Edinburgh also houses high-performance computing facilities, including the UK’s national supercomputer, which is available to researchers and industry experts.

AI infiltrating industries

According to recent Scottish Government data, about 27% of companies use some form of AI for their business. The number of UK companies using AI has increased by 688% in the past decade.

In October 2023, the UK Government launched a £118 AI skills package to support research centres such as GAIL, postgraduate degrees and more.

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Of the 12 new centres for doctoral studies in AI, three are based in Edinburgh,

If industries are already using AI, then students need to understand the possibilities and pitfalls associated with it.

The university posts guidance – beyond standard warnings against plagiarism and inaccuracies – for students and staff on how and when to use AI in their work.

And there is a reason that every mention of AI in the classroom comes with a disclaimer about ethics and responsibility. In part, that’s down to fast-growing popularity.

Last year, a survey found that more than half of young people reported using an AI chatbot in some way.

But the power of technology also creates possible landmines for students and teachers. In its official guidance, the University of Edinburgh warns students to be on the lookout for accidental misuse more than malicious intent.

Harnessing the power of AI

It’s important for students to cite their use of AI in the same way they would an academic journal or paper.

Furthermore, they need to use caution because AI makes mistakes.

Generative AI tools are not databases, the guidance states. The content they provide is not always factually correct and can contain offensive language or ideas.

Sometimes, the AI itself plagiarises work from human authors. It can even generate fake citations which give students a false sense of security.

Training students in the ethics of responsible AI use and preparing them for careers that will rely on AI is a difficult balance to strike, according to an Edinburgh University spokesperson.

“AI will change our lives in the same way that the internet and smartphones have, so it’s vital that we equip our students with the skills needed to use these tools appropriately and responsibly.

“The use of AI, however, needs to be done within an ethical framework, with full knowledge of how it works, including the strengths and weaknesses of different tools. To assist with this, we have published guidance to ensure that our students understand how to use generative AI tools in accordance with good academic practice.  We will keep these under review, aware always of the advances in the technology.

“We continue to monitor and engage in broader discussions with the higher education sector to help shape best practice."