Technology plays a pivotal role in ITHAKA’s ability to improve access to knowledge and education in ways that align with scholarly values and maximize impact for everyone. Beginning in 1995 with JSTOR’s early use of the internet to transform printed journal backfiles into digital documents, and continuing with our development of the Portico digital preservation service, and through Ithaka S+R and its research to improve access to education for people from all backgrounds, we seek ways to expand knowledge safely, affordably, and sustainably.

Odra Noel. Cajal Neurons. n.d. Wellcome Collection.

In recent months, the release and rapid worldwide exploration of ChatGPT has signaled a seismic shift in technology, the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the dawn of the internet itself. Generative AI has taken the world by storm not only because it makes a computer seem sentient, but also because it delivers information that is useful. It can winnow down a nearly infinite amount of disparate information into easily digestible insights and guidance. Like everyone, we are both impressed by these capabilities and wary of them, and are acutely aware of the potential for these capabilities to be used in ways that are misleading, poorly framed, or just plain wrong. There is indeed great potential for them to do harm.

Despite these concerns, and in some ways because of them, we are collaborating closely with our community of librarians, faculty, researchers, and students to address the numerous existential questions, institutional concerns, and practical considerations introduced by use of generative AI in education. We are great believers in learning both through careful research and through action, and so I want to introduce you to some of the work we have underway.

Deepening our understanding of generative AI in higher education

First, on the research front, Ithaka S+R is collaborating with 20 colleges and universities on a multi-year research project called Making AI Generative for Higher Education with the aim of learning together and charting a productive path in the use of generative AI in higher education. The project will pool knowledge to assess the current impact of these technologies and help these institutions develop strategies for making the best, safe use of them. What is learned from the effort will be published and shared widely.

We are also evaluating how these technologies might improve the learning and research experience for JSTOR users. We have been working with machine learning and semantic indexing tools for a decade, and since 2021 have used AI tools behind the scenes to improve search relevancy and discovery. We are now poised to take next steps to bring the benefits of generative AI more directly to the JSTOR user experience.

Generative AI for improved research and learning

This month we will begin offering JSTOR users the opportunity to beta test generative AI-powered features on the JSTOR platform. We will begin to release these capabilities in a controlled way to a limited group of volunteer users so we can more quickly collaborate with our community to develop tools that are effective and safe, and that make research and learning easier in ways that are aligned with our shared goals and values. In doing so, we aim to be your ally in the engagement and responsible use of generative AI to support education and the creation of new knowledge.

As we embark on this collaborative process, I want to emphasize our guiding principles that govern this work:

  • We honor our values first and foremost. JSTOR provides users with a credible, scholarly research and learning experience. Generative AI must enhance that credibility, not undermine it.
  • We will listen closely and proceed cautiously. We will use these tools safely and well.
  • We empower people, we do not replace them. These tools should not be used to “do the work.” They should be designed to help people, especially students, learn and do their work better and more efficiently.
  • We will enable our systems to interact with users in ways that are comfortable. Traditionally, it has been the users’ responsibility to adapt to restricted language and structures to provide computers with inputs; computers can now interact effectively with users in natural language and we should take advantage of that.
  • We will lead with care. We will deeply consider the aspirations and trepidations of the many communities we serve.

Our nearly 30 years of success has derived from our ability to see a better future and to work to understand and balance the interests of multiple constituents as we build that future together. We look forward to working with our community to use these latest technologies to continue to deliver the high-quality, trusted, impactful services you have come to expect and that improve access to knowledge and education for people all over the world.

Learn more about generative AI on the JSTOR platform.