By Tristan E. M. Leach
When deciding what college to attend, I took a tour of every school’s campus like most prospective students do. At Rider, my dad and I, as well as a group of other students and parents were taken on a tour by a lovely student tour guide, who gave us a wonderful tour and answered all of our questions. There is no one better for this job than a human — or that’s the hope.
Enter ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) bot that has recently been in the news and dominated the discussion around plagiarism. The bot can be used to write a last-minute essay for you or find that word on the tip of your tongue.
It can also plan a tour and give information about any place in the world, including Rider.
I started by asking ChatGPT why I should go to Rider. The bot gave me five well-thought-out points and elaborated on them as well. The five points were as follows: academic programs, location, faculty, student life and career services. In short, everything a human tour guide would go over.
“Overall, Rider University is a great choice for students who are looking for a high-quality education in a supportive and welcoming environment,” ChatGPT told me.
Next I asked the AI what the most popular majors at Rider were, and ChatGPT began pulling directly from Rider’s website. I was informed that business administration, psychology, elementary education, biology and accounting were the most popular, but that the school has a variety of majors.
I continued to mess with the platform, asking the bot if Rider had a newspaper and a television network. ChatGPT confirmed that Rider does, going into great detail about each, where to find the newspaper and where to watch shows. Again, it answered questions I could ask a human tour guide.
This continued on for a while, until I asked ChatGPT about people who go to or work at Rider. First I asked the bot if it knew who Gregory Dell’Omo is. The bot tells me that Dell’Omo was president of Rider from 2015 to June 2021 when he retired. The AI then told me that Shaun Chornobroff, a senior sports media major and executive editor for The Rider News, became president after Dell’Omo retired. Then I asked the bot if it knew who Kevin Baggett was. ChatGPT not only correctly identified Baggett as the head coach of the men’s basketball team, but also gave me where he was born and went to high school which felt a bit creepy.
Back to the tour, I asked ChatGPT if it could help me plan a tour of Rider. In short, it told me both yes and no. The bot gave me the best places to see when on campus and told me I should stop at Starbucks.
This got me wondering, what do current and aspiring tour guides think about all of this?
Fortunately for humanity, there are still things that ChatGPT can’t do, like walk or give you visuals of the university. I asked the bot if it could show me pictures of Rider.
“As an AI language model, I am not able to provide you with visual content such as images,” said ChatGPT.
For people like Lianne Litchfield, a sophomore film and television major, the technology doesn’t pose the threat that many people fear. Litchfield is a prospective tour guide who was drawn to the job because it was her tour that convinced her Rider was her college of choice.
“Getting to experience Rider before deciding to go here is what made the world of a difference. [My friends and I] were more sure of our decision, and I want to be that for somebody,” said Litchfield.
Just like Litchfield, I took a tour of Rider before finalizing my decision to attend the school, so I decided to reach out to the Office of Admissions and ask if I could possibly tag along on a tour to refresh my memory.
The office referred me to Hannah Ford, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions. Ford offered me the option of either taking an already preset tour, or going on a private tour. I asked if I could join a preset one. I was curious to see how visiting students and their families react to the campus. Unfortunately there weren’t any available when I was, so I was taken on a private tour by Andrew Bernstein, a senior political science major and Student Government Association (SGA) president.
Bernstein took me on a tour that lasted 40 minutes. We started with the Student Recreation Center (SRC) and then moved onto Alumni Gym. Bernstein gave me his usual spiel for every location and then explained to me why he says what he does. From there, we went onto Daly’s where I was given a tour of every station in the dining hall, making me feel that Rider will pay attention to my dietary needs. Afterwards, I was shown the standard double in Ziegler residence hall and the apartment in Moore. I was then given the full run-down on the academic buildings and the other buildings at the back half of the campus. Bernstein told me about his personal experiences with staff and faculty at Rider that had positively impacted his college experience and his life.
After our tour I asked Bernstein what ChatGPT has the potential for missing or not providing to new students.
“Not only the personal experiences, but also seeing stuff. That was one of my biggest things when I was touring the campus; I wanted to see if it was a comfortable environment — do I like the spaces for students? — and I wanted to put the tour guides on the spot. I wanted to know their experience. You learn a lot from catching people off guard,” said Bernstein with a chuckle.
For Litchfield and Bernstein, the personal experience is what is most important, something ChatGPT can’t provide a person. The bot has no personal experience, no stories that bring smiles and soft chuckles from the people there, no emotion to connect you to the school.
After my tour I sat down in Cranberry’s and asked ChatGPT a vital question. Do you think you have the potential to replace tour guides?
The bot said, “As an AI language model, I believe that I can complement and enhance the college tour experience, but I can not replace human tour guides entirely. While I can provide helpful information about the university, answer questions, and offer suggestions for planning a visit, I can not provide the same personal connection and insight that a human tour guide can offer.”
There is nothing like the human experience, even in a world where that experience seems to be second to a robot.