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Mixed responses after fallout from Livvy Dunne’s AI ad controversy

Livvy Dunne
Photo credit: LSU Athletics

Olivia Dunne’s controversial promotion of an artificial intelligence tool has prompted a conversation on AI ethics and generated a wide range of responses throughout the sports and academic worlds.

In the TikTok video, posted in late February to Dunne’s 7.3 million followers, the popular LSU gymnast doesn’t actually say a word.

Rather, text at the top of the video says “Need to get my creativity flowing for my essay due at midnight,” before showing Dunne using an AI tool — Caktus.AI — to generate paragraphs, before holding her computer and giving the camera a thumbs up.

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The video includes text that says “Caktus.AI > ChatGPT” referring to the popular artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI, and a caption reading: “ will provide real resources for you to cite at the end of your essays and paragraphs;) #caktus #foryou.”

Caktus.AI describes itself as the “first ever educational artificial intelligence tool” and an “academic curated search engine.”

Indeed, while Caktus.AI does make it easier to generate content for, say, a college writing assignment, that’s really just the beginning of what large language models are capable of.

The tool lets users dial in on specific topics, and can generate code in several popular coding languages, which can assist programmers. It can work as a tutor for myriad subjects, generate flashcards for studying, and can also teach several different languages.

Jake Kasper, Assistant Director for Michigan State’s Office of Student Support and Accountability, said he “would question whether or not artificial intelligence is the best product to endorse” due to ongoing concern of the long-term impact of AI on pedagogy and learning.

“I’m not saying that student-athletes endorsing it are saying, ‘Don’t learn.’ So there’s obviously a lot more to discuss and uncover there,” Kasper told the Associated Press.

Regardless of one’s stance on AI writ large, some experts highlighted the problem of using AI specifically for tasks akin to plagiarism.

“It does seem problematic to have people sort of promoting plagiarism … It does seem like something colleges should teach students not to do,” John Basl, a Philosophy Professor at Northeastern University in Boston who specializes in AI and data ethics, and who also is a faculty affiliate of Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, told the Associated Press.

Following the backlash immediately following the video, LSU issued a statement making it clear that using an AI tool to do one’s work for them would be a violation of school policy. 

“At LSU, our professors and students are empowered to use technology for learning and pursuing the highest standards of academic integrity,” the statement said, according to The Advocate. “However, using AI to produce work that a student then represents as one’s own could result in a charge of academic misconduct, as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct.”

Darren Heitner, a prominent NIL attorney, wrote in his newsletter that the incident “does cause 2 things to come to mind that I constantly stress to clients: (1) choose quality over quantity; and (2) make sure you have a real appreciation for a product or service before you promote it.”

“I’m certain her reputation will remain strong and that this national scrutiny is just temporary,” Heitner wrote. “But I’m also sure it will be a learning lesson for her and hopefully others who wish to follow in her footsteps.” 

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On Twitter, opinions were mixed.

“This endorsement highlights some of the flaws with the current NIL policy,” wrote Lauren McCoy Coffey, Program Director of the Sport and Fitness Administration and Assistant Professor at Winthrop University. “So much of it is responding to things after people take advantage of loopholes.”

Sports fans were also torn. 

“Promoting an AI to college students and expecting them to use it solely to ‘get creativity flowing’ seems like an oxymoron,” wrote one user.

“If they want to promote it, that’s their call… but if the athlete (or anyone) gets caught using it, they’ll get the hammer and will have deserved it,” wrote another. “This is one of those ‘you can do it, but…’ lessons.”

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