New York City’s education department has banned access to ChatGPT, a chatbot that uses machine learning to craft realistic text, out of concern for “safety and accuracy.”
As first reported by Chalkbeat New York, the ban will apply to devices and internet networks belonging to the education department. Individual schools can request access to ChatGPT for the purpose of studying AI and technology-related education, according to a department spokesperson.
“Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools’ networks and devices,” education department spokesperson Jenna Lyle told Motherboard in a statement. “While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success.”
OpenAI released ChatGPT in November 2022. Since then, it’s generated a lot of hype, debate, and fear-mongering about the continued rise of artificially intelligent systems in creative industries. In reality, the chatbot isn’t that smart. In December, Stack Overflow banned it for consistently giving incorrect answers to programming questions. Even OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman doesn’t think it’s that good; he tweeted last month that “ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness,” and that it’s “a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now.”
At the same time, some teachers are reportedly “in a near-panic” about the technology enabling students to cheat on assignments, according to the Washington Post. The New York Times recently showed writers and educators samples of ChatGPT’s writing side-by-side with writing by human students, and none of them could reliably discern the bot from the real thing.
A spokesperson for OpenAI told Motherboard in a statement: “We made ChatGPT available as a research preview to learn from real-world use, which we believe is a critical part of developing and deploying capable, safe AI systems. We are constantly incorporating feedback and lessons learned. We’ve always called for transparency around the use of AI-generated text. Our policies require that users be up-front with their audience when using our API and creative tools like DALL-E and GPT-3. We don’t want ChatGPT to be used for misleading purposes in schools or anywhere else, so we’re already developing mitigations to help anyone identify text generated by that system. We look forward to working with educators on useful solutions, and other ways to help teachers and students benefit from artificial intelligence.”
When I asked ChatGPT what it thought about the ban, it gave an impartial response: “It is important to consider the potential risks and benefits of using ChatGPT in education, and to carefully weigh the evidence before making a decision. It is also essential to listen to the perspectives and concerns of all stakeholders, including educators, students, and parents, in order to make informed and fair decisions.”
This story has been updated with comment from OpenAI.