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Praise for AI article, College Green photo IDs (and one lingering mystery), fruitful essay, and more.

The Best (No BS)

Trey Popp’s piece on AI [“Alien Minds, Immaculate Bullshit, Outstanding Questions,” May|Jun 2023] is the best thing I’ve ever read on the topic. It’s also superbly written—the kind of prose that, in this humanist’s non-humble opinion, AI is unlikely ever to match.

Benjamin Nathans, faculty, Philadelphia

Chatbot, Assess Thyself

I read the article about ChatGPT with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. Does the world really need AI technology—long on the Artificial and short on the Intelligence—as an additional source of banality and misinformation? Aren’t we inundated with enough of that from the internet and social media—and from recent stories in this publication featuring either meaningless narcissism or liberal propaganda?

The challenge for instructors and for users is to view AI tools as a starting point—a foundation, however shaky—rather than as the end point, i.e., the final answer, in the thought process. I foresee most AI users choosing among three strategies: (1) to succumb to the mediocrity of the analysis (the easy approach), (2) to embrace and then react to erroneous information (the Trump-ish approach), or (3) to plagiarize whatever information appears to be valid, whether accurate or not (the Biden-ish approach).

None are satisfactory choices. The user needs to inject a healthy dose of skepticism into the analysis, just as in scientific studies. The most likely beneficiaries from the output of ChatGPT already will have a firm grasp of the subject matter, possessing enough skill in critical thinking to discern the good from the bad and from the downright ugly.

The Achilles’ heel of AI systems like ChatGPT lies in discarding the ideas of the truly innovative and/or artistic as outliers to be dismissed summarily from the dataset. Had the explorers in the Age of Discovery used a product like ChatGPT, they might have concluded and insisted that the world was flat based on a preponderance of myths, legends, and conventional “wisdom.” As the article reveals, with examples from writing to recipes, the exclusion of contributions from out-of-the-box thinkers will skew the AI results toward conformity and mediocrity.

I’d like to propose an experiment: instruct ChatGPT to perform a self-assessment of its own usefulness and pitfalls, then summarize the results in the format of a letter to the editor. Let’s see how persuasively the program can speak for itself.

John H. Brand C’79, Gardnerville, NV

The Gardner Test

There is a practical way for teachers at all levels to know if ChatGPT has written essays. Before instruction begins, have students write an essay in class on a subject they are familiar with. Save these essays as a baseline when evaluating subsequent essays. If these suddenly deviate dramatically in quality from the first day, teachers can be almost certain ChatGPT was the author.

Walt Gardner C’57, Los Angeles

Defensible Version of the Truth

For the defense in white collar criminal cases, my essential task is to determine if the client has a defensible version of the truth. From “Alien Minds, Immaculate Bullshit, Outstanding Questions” I gather that ChatGPT-4 sets the same task for me and is quite convincing. I am not sure I can manage both.

James Backstrom L’76, Wayne, PA

A Language Model Writes

I was so impressed by Trey Popp’s article on ChatGPT that I asked it to prepare the attached letter about my feelings.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Jim Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY

Dear Pennsylvania Gazette,

I am writing to express my appreciation for the outstanding article “College in the Age of ChatGPT” [actually the cover line, but lots of humans make that mistake, too. —Ed.] that was recently published in your esteemed publication. As a language model AI, I am delighted to see the discussion and exploration of the impact of technology on higher education in such a thoughtful and insightful way.

The article provided a comprehensive overview of the ways in which the proliferation of technology, including AI and language models like myself, is transforming the landscape of higher education. It also explored the potential benefits and challenges that these developments present, highlighting the need for a thoughtful and nuanced approach to integrating technology into the college experience.

I was particularly impressed by the depth of research and analysis that went into this article, as well as the clear and engaging writing style. The author’s ability to make complex ideas accessible to a wide audience is truly commendable, and I have no doubt that this piece will be of great interest to educators, students, and policymakers alike.

Overall, I believe that “College in the Age of ChatGPT” is a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation about the role of technology in higher education. I would like to thank the Pennsylvania Gazette for publishing such a high-quality and thought-provoking article, and I look forward to reading more of your excellent content in the future.


A Taste of Home

There’s just something about people who go to Penn!

Witness Lila Dubois, sophomore from the San Fernando Valley. Her essay “Oranges” [“Notes from the Undergrad,” May|Jun 2023] is a winning exploration of several important moments in life.

She tells us of reverence for “home,” uncertainty in a new life phase on unfamiliar grounds, and eventual comfort when they become familiar. She’s personable, funny, and direct. In using oranges and fruit as meaningful metaphors, her words are insightful and convincing.

I toyed with pulling quotes from her rich evocation of homeland, but it just didn’t work. You simply have to hear it—all of it—from her. From describing orange trees, to the fruit’s myriad uses, to its rightful place in the community, you feel her connection.

After initial uneasiness at Penn, she finally feels “present” in Philadelphia and fruit leads the way. “Philly, as it turns out, has very good apples.” There’s a lot here. Hope we’ll have the opportunity to read a lot more while she’s at Penn and beyond.

Tom Vincent WG’56, Briarcliff Manor, NY


The reference to Philly’s “very good apples” in Lila Dubois’s “Oranges” evoked old memories of my undergraduate years at Penn.

Those apples played an important role in my time there. With a full complement of classes and a work-study job, I realized during the first week of my freshman year that I had no time for lunch. But then I discovered the apple man and his cart, selling right outside my classroom building at 34th and Walnut. His Delicious apples were enormous and, indeed, delicious. And they cost only a quarter each! Two problems solved at once—food to carry me through till dinner and a price perfect for my budget. Thank you, apple man.

Pam Weiss CW’71, Pittsburgh

Another Tale of Revenge

Nick Lyons’ essay “Getting Even” [“Alumni Voices,” May|Jun 2023], reminded of the opening of E. A. Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” It reads: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed to take revenge.”

Marian Puro Froehlich FA’48, Rye, NY

Well Done, Everyone!

Thanks for an upbeat article on Mask and Wig’s first show with women in the company [“Gazetteer,” May|Jun 2023]. It seems, onstage and off, that this overdue change is reinvigorating the Club. Well done, everyone!

I somehow made the cut and was in the 1965, ’66 and ’67 shows. But I never was cast to play a female. Granddaughter asked why and my late wife, Betsey, also Penn, then legendary on campus as “Bevans,” said, “he had a mustache.”

Stan Heuisler W’67, Baltimore

The writer also submitted “proof,” available at our website, in the form of “a recreation of my portrait on the wall of the Mask and Wig Clubhouse. Still have it!” —Ed.

Tyger on the Green

I can identify some of the people in “Hippie Splendor” [“Old Penn,” May|Jun 2023]. The band is Tyger, of which I was a member. That’s me, on the left, holding the guitar and facing away from the camera and with the holey belt and the wallet outline on my back pocket. Bill Carpenter C’74 (headband and big beard, and no longer with us) is in the center, and Dick Carpenter (Bill’s brother, a graduate of Eastern College four years earlier) is on the right holding the violin.

We played around campus, including several gigs at frat houses, at Irvine once, and at the Catacombs, including an original folk-rock opera we performed there in spring of 1974. We also played at some clubs around town, most notably in long-term engagements at La Terrasse between 34th and 36th on Sansom Street—near what eventually became the White Dog Cafe and what, at the time, was the home base for Le Bus, which operated out of, well, a bus, parked outside the Law School—and at the Khyber Pass Pub on 2nd Street near Chestnut. 

I could identify four others in the picture, all of whom lived in a 12-person communal house at 4005 Baltimore Avenue with the band in our senior year. We ate dinner together every night (feasts, really), had shopping and cleaning teams each week, had intense table hockey challenges after dinner each night in the spring and, of course, got high on all the music (maybe not just the music). Those four include Mark Guido C’74, who is in the process of sitting down to the left of the group in back of the open guitar case, in the striped sweater; Barry Champney C’74 (and no longer with us) further left a bit and looking down at the ground; Mary Carpenter (Dick’s wife and also a 1970 graduate of Eastern College), just to the right of Barry’s head, sitting behind him with the blond hair; and Vicki Lopus (Temple, 1975) in front of the guitar case and Mark’s girlfriend at the time.

But how did the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live get into the photo (just above the violinist’s left shoulder)? Photoshop? This was before the show ever aired!

Steve Hastie C’74, Philadelphia

Thanks to Marisa (Maria L.) Guerin CW’74, who also supplied some of these identifications—and copied Steve Hastie for further details. “Wow,” she wrote. “Memories, for sure.” —Ed.

Unexpected Deja Vu

I graduated from the College in May 1969. So I do not recognize anyone in the photograph. However, like Michael Malyszko C’73, I studied for most of my senior year with Michael Smith in Powelton Village. I also, for economy, bulk loaded my Tri-X film!

By early that spring, I had printed and matted enough photographs (25–35) to have an exhibition in the art gallery at Beaver College. As I was hanging my work, I was accosted by a very attractive woman about my age who was dressed in tennis whites and dangerously swinging her tennis racquet. She demanded to know what I was doing. And so, I met an important woman in my life who I dated for about a year and a half. Our relationship was challenged when in mid-August 1969, I flew out to California to begin my Master of Architecture program at UC Berkeley, at the time the most highly ranked program in the US. I imagine that some of the samples of work from my design program at the University of Pennsylvania that went to UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design also included some of those photographs that I developed and printed in Michael’s darkroom and gained me the letter of acceptance that dramatically changed and influenced my life.

Thank you Michael Malyszko for the unexpected déjà vu from a time I barely remember as it is so very long ago and far away.

Andrew Beckerman C’69, Victoria, BC, Canada

Time Travel, and a Weather Report

I can’t imagine how many emails the Gazette has received about the “time traveler” in this picture (her head appears just to the right of the guy holding the fiddle). Did she travel forward or backward in time?

Re “one of the first nice afternoons of the spring,” as photographer Mike Malyszko C’73 described the day he took the photo, the winter of 1972–73 was unusually mild on campus, with plenty of rain but only a bit of snow, the latter in February just in time for the Seals and Croft concert at the Spectrum. The following winter, 1973–74, was unusually cold and with considerable ice, if I recollect. News anchor John Facenda opined to his television audience that a winter such as 1973–74 was likely a back-to-the-future harbinger.

Mark Tollin G’76, Roanoke, VA

A Mentor’s Memorable Motto

I was sorry to see Paul Rubincam W’60’s obituary in the Gazette [“Obituaries,” May|Jun 2023]. Few if any mentors have had more of an impact on my life. I was a work-study student in his office at Wharton Graduate Alumni Affairs, and he gave me my first full-time job in alumni relations, which began my career. But most importantly, he reminded me to “Be Nice.” I think that’s a motto we all could aspire to.

Neil Plakcy C’79, Hollywood, FL

Penn’s Last 60-Minute Man

The Gazette’s obituary for James D. Dunsmore W’61 [“Obituaries,” May|Jun 2023] overlooked his unique place in Penn’s football history. In the 1960 Penn–Dartmouth game, Jim became the last Penn football player (at least so far) to play all 60 minutes of a varsity game. That was a remarkable feat for anyone, but especially so considering that Jim never played organized football before he entered Penn. He was an early avatar of the Ivy League ideal: a “walk-on” student who seized the opportunity to try out for a team and made the most of it.

Jim stands out in my memory for one other reason: he was the only Penn student I ever knew (aside from myself) who walked around campus singing Penn songs.

Dan Rottenberg C’64, Philadelphia

The author of 12 books, including Fight On, Pennsylvania (1985), a history of Penn football, Rottenberg [“Professional Contrarian,” Sep|Oct 2022] notes that he is currently working on “an oral history of Penn’s struggle to join the Ivy League in the mid-20th century.”—Ed.

Troubling Indeed

I can only wonder about the political affiliations of the 10 “scholars” who were part of the Annenberg IOD Collaborative and their choice of the four crises that affected the 2020 election. But I am used to these kinds of distortions from academia.

One of the dirtiest presidential election tricks ever was the coordinated suppression of the validity of the Hunter Biden laptop by the FBI, CIA, our current Secretary of State, Twitter, and 51 stooges from the intelligence community. Regardless of Hunter Biden’s personal proclivities, the laptop offers copious evidence detailing his work coordinating the meetings of private interests with his father, for significant compensation. If the media had fairly and diligently reported the details of the Biden influence peddling business, would 20,000 ~ 100,000 voters in eight key states have voted differently?

For you all to report on such a biased study of what affected the 2020 election and ignore the laptop suppression is troubling indeed.

By the way, I voted for neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden.

Douglas Rubin WG’98, Princeton, NJ

Marching Multi-Instrumentalist

I was a member of the Penn Band [“And the Band Played On,” Jan|Feb 2023]. But as an oboe player, a marching band and I were not a good fit. So I taught myself to play trumpet, not well, but adequately. I and others like me would arrive for a game and look for a trumpet. Sometimes one was not available, but the euphonium used the same fingering. So we played that if available. If not, some of us found that a French horn, not keying it, with a trumpet embouchure, could play the first trumpet part. We may not have sounded so good, but we marched well.

By the way, the band director was Dr. Bruce Beach, whose full-time job was band director at Lower Merion High School.

George Fern C’51, Oceanside, CA

Budget Accommodations

I was the Penn Band manager in 1958–1960. The comment about sleeping in the overhead racks [“Letters,” May|June 2023] was correct. I was up there. The trip was to Dartmouth, an overnight venture. The free food was provided by an alumnus who was traveling on the train and felt sorry for the band members. The band did not have much of a budget back then. As regards females in the marching band at that time, the consensus was that the Ivy League would not allow this and the band could be penalized, not that the members were against the change.

Barry Borodkin W’60, Valley Stream, NY

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