Students and academics who use artificial intelligence tools to ‘ghostwrite’ essays or dissertations risk having their degrees revoked according to a new draft Degree Law to tackle misconduct, including plagiarism that is currently before China’s National People’s Congress (NPC).
If this draft law is enacted it will make China the first country to outlaw the use of artificial intelligence to write research output. The challenge of course will be correctly detecting when it has been used. It should be noted that the law has a retrospective element so that a student who has graduated where their work used AI may have their degree revoked. One wonders whether similar laws may be adopted in other jurisdictions. Use of such technology is undoubtedly unethical, but the risk of false positives does seem high.
The penalties will also apply to those who have already obtained bachelor, masters or doctoral-level degrees if they are later found to have used ‘illegal means’, including the use of AI tools, to falsify data or use ghostwritten essays.
The degree granting institution will have to revoke the degree following a review by the Degree Evaluation Committee, according to the draft law tabled on 28 August and currently at the early stages of deliberation in the NPC.
A changed landscape
An earlier draft of the proposed Degree Law released in 2021 for consultation did not include references to AI. But the development of AI writing tools, such as ChatGPT released by OpenAI in November 2022, has significantly changed the landscape for universities.