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Examinations "Turing Test"

AI and Exams Paper

Peter Scarfe, Kelly Watcham, Alasdair Clarke, and Etienne Roesch. (2024). “A real-world test of artificial intelligence infiltration of a university examinations system: a “Turing Test” case study”. PLOS ONE.


See online coverage: BBC NewsTimes, Times HES, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Daily Mail, New ScientistYahoo News, Phys.org, MSN, Frobes, The Scotsman, Ars Technica.

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Alan Turing, AI and Exams

In 1951 Alan Turing published a paper called “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. In this he described the “Imitation Game” (which came to be known as the “Turing Test”). In this test, a human interrogator has a text-based conversation with a man and a woman in a different room. These are known to the interrogator only as X and Y. The interrogator is to determine which of X and Y is a man and which a woman. Turing asked what would happen if X or Y were replaced with a machine. Would the interrogator make the same number of errors as when both X and Y were humans?

Turing’s aim was to outline an operational definition of intelligence through considering the question "can machines think?". If the interrogator made equally many errors when either X or Y was a machine, versus both humans, could the machine be said to be capable of thought and reasoning?

Portrait of Alan Turing at the Royal Society, London

Today we are living amid the dramatic rise of artificial intelligence (AI) models. The current poster child of this revolution is ChatGPT, produced by OpenAI. ChatGPT is a large language model designed to understand inputs such as text and generate human like responses. A user can have extended conversations with GPT-4 probing its knowledge and understanding.

Whilst it is an open question as to whether ChatGPT exhibits intelligence, thought and reasoning. There is a growing worry in the higher educational sector that AI models such as ChatGPT could be used by students to cheat in exams and assessments. Many anecdotal reports have arisen of educators running assessment questions though AI and it is gaining excellent grades.

To rigorously investigate this, we took inspiration from Turing and designed a blind study to test AI’s ability to infiltrate a university examinations system. We asked whether 100% AI written exam submissions to an undergraduate BSc Psychology degree program could (1) be detected and (2) if not, what grades would they achieve?

We found that, not only were AI submissions near undetectable, they also robustly gained higher grades then real student submissions.

Our study opens a discourse about the academic integrity of assessments and highlights the need for the global educational sector to accept a “new normal” which acknowledges both the risks and opportunities afforded by artificial intelligence.

This research was funded by

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