The AtlanticThe Atlantic

The end of recommendation letters

By Ian Bogost

20 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

Professors are using AI to automate tasks like writing letters of reference. That just goes to show that AI is best at producing output we don’t care about, argues an essayist in The Atlantic.

Early spring greened outside the picture window in the faculty club. I was lunching with a group of fellow professors, and, as happens these days when we assemble, generative artificial intelligence was discussed. Are your students using it? What are you doing to prevent cheating? Heads were shaken in chagrin as iced teas were sipped for comfort.

But then, one of my colleagues wondered: Could he use AI to generate a reference letter for a student? Faculty write loads of these every year, in support of applications for internships, fellowships, industry jobs, graduate school, university posts. They all tend to be more or less the same, yet they also somehow take a lot of time, and saving some of it might be nice. Other, similar ideas spilled out quickly. Maybe ChatGPT could help with grant proposals. Or syllabi, even? The ideas seemed revelatory, but also scandalous.

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