Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Virtual Grad Student

Martin Haug, who is working on a LaTeX alternative Typst, asked me if I had updates on a LaTeX rant from 2011. I haven't seen any new serious backward compatibility problems. We have easier collaboration through on-line editors like Overleaf. We have got closer to WSYWIG thanks to quick compiling but still not at the level of Word or Google Docs. The big problem of user friendliness remains. There's a reason LaTeX has its own Stack Exchange

But we live in a new machine learning world. Can we use generative AI to make LaTeX easier to use?

Mandatory Disclaimer: Generative AI can sometimes create inaccurate, inappropriate or previously-published material. You are ultimately responsible for the contents of your paper no matter how you produced it.

Since I sometimes think of LaTeX as a programming language for papers, I tweeted

Thanks for the responses. The answer to the question is yes, GitHub Copilot works for LaTeX if you edit LaTeX in a programming environment like VS Code, Neovim or Jet Brains. It helps with formatting of formulas and pictures, less so on the text itself. I made a video so you can see how it works.

Latext AI offers a chrome extension that will let you generate text via GPT in Overleaf based on a prompt or previous text, though Latext requires a subscription after a one-week trial. You can also just cut and paste between any text editor and ChatGPT.

ChatGPT notoriously makes up references if you ask for them. Can we have a good system that finds relevant articles to cite and adds them automatically into your bibliography?

Ideally all these should work together seamlessly, suggestions that happen as you type. A true co-pilot for research papers.

There are many more tools out there, feel free to add them to the comments. I expect the integration to improve over time as we develop new APIs and models.

I look forward to the days of a virtual grad student: Here's a research goal and an idea to get there. Now go figure out the details and write the paper. 

It will be a long wait.


  1. I’ve used the markdown package for latex. This allows any template file to be used too. Almost as readable as typst it appears.

  2. Re: finding relevant articles. Someone recommended this to me a while ago, though I have yet to try it:

    Maybe less AI (though surely there's some ML going on on the backend?), but related: I was a little skeptical because of the seeming focus on patents, but I typed in "NEXP" into the scholarly works search and got a bunch of clearly relevant articles.