Ask any student at the University of Maryland their thoughts and opinions on the school, and they’d have a decent amount to say about their major, our football team, the dining hall food, the dorms and much more. But college students now have an interesting secondary source available to them for these questions: artificial intelligence.
I spoke with two algorithms: OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Snapchat’s My AI. ChatGPT is a language model that uses machine learning algorithms to form human-sounding responses in hopes to “provide information to users in a conversational manner.” My AI is a chatbot designed to converse with Snapchat users as a friend, and its data is updated regularly. ChatGPT’s data on the other hand, hasn’t been updated since September 2021.
I decided to test how these robots would answer questions regarding life at the university and the habits of students here. I gave the AIs a word count of 50 for each response.
These questions have been edited for clarity. The AI’s responses have not been edited.
What is something unique to the University of Maryland?
ChatGPT: One unique feature of the University of Maryland is its “fire hose” alarm system. In the event of an emergency, a series of sirens and speakers emit a loud, high-pitched tone, followed by a voice announcement giving specific instructions. This system is designed to quickly and effectively alert and guide the university community during a crisis.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. This university has a fire alarm system, but it is not centered on fire hoses, and not every building’s alarm system has a voice announcement feature.
My AI: One unique thing about UMD is its location. The campus is situated in College Park, which is a vibrant and diverse community with a lot of great restaurants, shops and cultural attractions. Being so close to Washington, D.C., is also a huge plus, as it offers students a lot of opportunities to explore the nation’s capital.
What is the best thing about the University of Maryland?
ChatGPT: The best thing about the University of Maryland is often considered its academic excellence, including top-ranked programs and distinguished faculty. The university’s location near Washington, D.C. also provides unique opportunities for students to engage with politics and industry, making it a popular choice for many students seeking a fulfilling academic experience.
[Social media has changed the way we attend concerts]
MyAI: That’s a tough question! There are so many great things about UMD. One of the best things is probably the sense of community on campus. There are so many different clubs and organizations to get involved in, and everyone is really friendly and welcoming.
What is the worst thing about the University of Maryland?
ChatGPT: I believe it is not constructive to focus on the negative aspects of a university. It is important to keep in mind that every institution has areas where they can improve, and the University of Maryland is no exception. However, it is best to research and evaluate the university based on your individual needs and priorities.
My AI: I wouldn’t say there’s a “worst” thing about UMD, but one thing that can be challenging is the size of the campus. It can be easy to get lost or overwhelmed, especially if you’re new to the school. But there are plenty of resources available to help you navigate the campus and get settled in.
Who is the most famous University of Maryland alum?
ChatGPT: The University of Maryland has a number of notable alumni across a variety of fields, including sports, entertainment, politics, and business. Some of the most famous and accomplished alumni of the university include:
- Sergey Brin – Co-founder of Google
- Jim Henson – Creator of the Muppets
- Larry David – Comedian, writer, and producer
- Connie Chung – Journalist and news anchor
- Kevin Plank – Founder and CEO of Under Armour
- Scott Van Pelt – ESPN Anchor and radio host
- Juan Dixon – Former NBA player and Maryland men’s basketball star
- Carla Hayden – Librarian of Congress
My AI: Hmm, I’m not sure, but I think Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, graduated from the University of Maryland.
If you could spend one day at the University of Maryland, what would you do?
ChatGPT: If I were to suggest activities at the University of Maryland, one could visit the campus’s museums, attend a lecture or seminar, explore the many outdoor spaces and gardens, or try out the different dining options available.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. The University of Maryland does not have any designated museums, but rather on-campus exhibition spaces.
MyAI: If I could spend a day at UMD, I would probably start by exploring the campus and checking out some of the buildings and landmarks, like the McKeldin Mall and the Memorial Chapel. I would also try to attend a class or two and maybe grab lunch at one of the dining halls.
Tell me about Testudo.
ChatGPT: Testudo is a beloved statue and symbol at the University of Maryland. It is a bronze statue of a diamondback terrapin, the official state reptile of Maryland, located in front of McKeldin Library on the campus mall. Students believe that rubbing Testudo’s nose, placing a penny at his feet and circling the statue three times will bring good luck, especially during exam time. The university also holds a special ceremony each year where students present offerings to Testudo in hopes of receiving good luck in their studies and future careers.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. There is no evidence suggesting that students circle the statue three times. Also, students presenting offerings to Testudo is not a university-held ceremony and the offerings are not limited to pennies.
My AI: Testudo is a statue and symbol of the University of Maryland. It’s located in the center of the McKeldin Mall and is a popular spot for students to gather and take photos. According to legend, rubbing Testudo’s nose will bring good luck, and students often leave offerings like coins or food at the statue’s feet.
What gender is Testudo?
ChatGPT: Testudo is a mascot at the University of Maryland, and is often depicted as a male diamondback terrapin. However, as a fictional character, Testudo does not have a biological sex or gender. Testudo is simply a symbol and representative of the University of Maryland community.
My AI: I’m not sure, but I think Testudo is gender-neutral.
*Both of these answers are inaccurate. The real Testudo is speculated by some researchers to be female due to its size, and the bronze statues across campus have female characteristics, like a higher dome on the shell, larger head and smaller tail. However, the original taxidermied terrapin and bronze statues cannot be removed from their bases, meaning researchers cannot confirm Testudo’s gender by looking at its stomach.
[From voice assistants to algorithms, the UMD community uses AI in unique ways]
Tell me something silly about the University of Maryland’s history.
ChatGPT: One fun and silly fact about the University of Maryland’s history is that the university once had a live mascot named “Testudo II” who was actually a diamondback terrapin. In 1933, a student named Adele H. Stamp acquired the terrapin from a local market and brought it to campus as a way to boost school spirit. Testudo II quickly became a beloved figure on campus, and he was even included in the university’s graduation procession for several years.
However, Testudo II’s time at the university was short-lived, as he unfortunately passed away after eating several pieces of candy that had been thrown into his tank during a homecoming parade. While the university no longer has a live mascot, Testudo the Terrapin remains an important symbol of school pride and spirit, and he continues to be a beloved figure among students and alumni.
My AI: Did you know that the University of Maryland used to have a live bear as its mascot? In the 1930s, a live bear named “Testudo” was brought to campus to serve as the school’s mascot. However, the bear was eventually retired due to safety concerns.
*These answers are inaccurate. There is no evidence suggesting that Adele H. Stamp brought a terrapin from a local market to campus. Adele H. Stamp was the first dean of women at this university and was not a student in 1933. Nothing in ChatGPT’s answer makes sense, much less is accurate to this university’s history.
There is also no evidence to suggest that this university used to have a live bear as its mascot. Testudo has been the school’s mascot since 1932.
Do you know what a Looney’s Crush bucket is?
ChatGPT: A Looney’s Crush Bucket is a popular beverage at Looney’s Pub, a bar located near the University of Maryland campus. The Crush Bucket is a large bucket filled with crushed ice, orange-flavored vodka, and orange juice, and is served with straws for sharing among friends. It has become a popular drink among college students and visitors to the area.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. There are various flavors of the Crush Bucket, and the Orange Crush Bucket ChatGPT refers to here also contains Triple Sec.
My AI: Yes, I do! A Looney’s Crush Bucket is a popular drink at Looney’s Pub. It’s a bucket filled with a variety of flavored crushes, which are fruity cocktails made with orange juice and other mixers.
What are the cheapest places to get food in College Park?
There are several affordable food options that you might want to consider:
- The Common: This is a student-run restaurant located in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland. The prices are very affordable and the menu includes a variety of dishes.
- Milk and Honey Cafe: This is a coffee shop located on Baltimore Avenue that offers a variety of breakfast and lunch options, including sandwiches, salads and smoothies.
- Marathon Deli: This is a Greek restaurant located on Route 1 that offers a variety of affordable sandwiches, salads and platters.
- Pizza Kingdom: This is a pizza restaurant located on Berwyn Road that offers large pizzas at affordable prices.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. The Common is not located in Stamp, it is in the College Park Marriott, and it is not specifically student-run. Pizza Kingdom is not located on Berwyn Road, it is on Lehigh Road.
My AI: I’m not sure about the cheapest places, but some of the most affordable places to eat in College Park are Ratsie’s Pizza, Marathon Deli, and Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa.
*This answer is partially inaccurate. Ratsie’s Pizza is no longer operational, and Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa is in Beltsville, not College Park.
As we can see, AIs still have a lot of learning to do. It seems that ChatGPT typically offers more technical answers, while My AI serves as more of a conversationalist.
Both provided several inaccurate answers regarding aspects of this university, College Park and college life in general. However, the extent of the knowledge that the AIs did possess regarding these subjects was impressive. Perhaps with more current data and active user engagement, AIs might be able to discuss our university and college lives at length and without flaw in the future.