Artificial Justice For All

in Editorials | April 12, 2024

          While Sir Walter Raleigh was once renowned as a colonial statesman, soldier, writer, and explorer; by 1618, he found himself condemned as a criminal by the British Crown. Raleigh heard the five charges against him for the first time at trial. Throughout the proceedings, he unsuccessfully attempted to summon and confront the author of a damning affidavit. Raleigh’s defense crumbled. After 25 minutes, the jury delivered a guilty verdict, and Raleigh was executed soon after. 

          Scholars debate whether Raleigh’s trial inspired the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which guarantees the right of the accused “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Catalyst or not, Raleigh’s case exemplifies the need for such policy, and the deliberate, thorough pace of justice that our country aspires to achieve.

          Centuries later, the Lawrenceville School’s disciplinary system upholds this tradition of impartiality, respecting the due process of fair inspection every student deserves. In our disciplinary proceedings, faculty involved in investigating a student’s misconduct are usually prevented from participating in the resulting disciplinary hearing. Furthermore, any student alleged of a major school rule violation retains the right to be the first to present an account during the hearing, ensuring their perspective is heard. 

          However, the rise of artificial intelligence in students’ academic lives may threaten the viability of this carefully constructed process. Like schools across the nation, Lawrenceville adopted Turnitin’s A.I. writing detection model. However, relying on such algorithmic systems to determine guilt or innocence in cases of unauthorized A.I. use risks eroding the aforementioned democratic protections for student “defendants.” Demanding that Turnitin “show its work” for its conclusions is nearly impossible, and any student falsely implicated by the A.I. detector lacks any means to confront Turnitin’s decision in a disciplinary hearing. 
       By no means does this editorial entertain fears of an unlikely, terrifying future of throngs of innocent students punished for violations they didn’t commit; yet, statistically speaking, this future is worth grappling with as we adapt to the usage of A.I. in schools. Turnitin boasts a “below 1%” rate of false positives on a sentence-by-sentence basis—should we assume, conservatively, that the real false positive rate hovers around 0.1%, and if all ≈ 832 Lawrenceville students submit five papers a term through Turnitin, we can expect around four of those 4,160 submissions to be falsely flagged as plagiarism. While four may seem like a small number, these four false positives represent four futures forever altered at the hand of a disciplinary system failing to reach the correct verdict.

          Looking ahead, Lawrenceville must protect the virtues of fairness and justice as it adapts to A.I.’s influence on our academic lives. Just as schools adjusted their expectations of students’ work with the advent of the internet, so too should they adapt classroom expectations to challenge students beyond the generative capabilities of A.I. After all, in a future where A.I. infiltrates America’s workspace, Lawrenceville students will expect to possess the skills which surpass mundane tasks A.I. can accomplish. By embracing innovation while safeguarding fundamental rights, educational institutions can navigate the evolving landscape of technology while upholding the principles of due process and equity.

          Here at The Lawrence, we always look for the most economical solution. When approaching Artificial Intelligence, we suggest re-utilizing a resource every Lawrenceville classroom has: the Harkness table. As Lawrentians have learned in the past year, A.I. software can’t break out of its hardware shell and help us at these organic discussions, where only our ideas, attitudes, and ambitions facilitate our learning. With laptops closed and eyes on each other, real learning happens in the moment: the School could replace asynchronous assessments with graded Harkness “debates” that test our ability to synthesize ideas in real time.  These dilapidated, defiled, unapologetically wooden Harkness tables are our final bulwark against the encroaching influence of A.I. and,  perhaps, the refuge where students can grow as thinkers and leaders without the temptation for technology—the kinds of thinkers and leaders that A.I. could never replace.