NYC schools block access to artificial intelligence chatbot


Students and teachers at New York City schools can no longer access a popular artificial intelligence-powered chatbot on WiFi networks or devices owned by the Department of Education, officials confirmed this week.

“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,” Department of Education spokesperson Jenna Lyle told Gothamist.

Created by the organization OpenAI, ChatGPT uses machine-learning to produce its own conversational responses to user input. It can present information in simple sentences, write in different styles and make logical arguments. The chat can even generate original ideas, along with well-written essays, poems and short stories.

Since its release in November, the controversial technology has sparked fear among educators that written assignments could lead to academic dishonesty, or even cause written assignments to become obsolete.

In a statement, Lyle attributed the decision to a concern for the technology’s effect on student’s learning.

“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,” she said.

But some in the field said banning the program could be counterproductive. Andreas Oranje, who works as vice president of Assessment and Learning Technology Research and Development at the Educational Testing Service – which administers tests like the GRE – said the move mirrored fears around previous technologies.

“My general view is that, ChatGPT and many other technologies — and that goes back to books, computers, calculators, etcetera — every time these things have been introduced over the centuries, there’s always been sort of that first reaction to ban,” he said. “It’s evil, it’s bad, it is messing with our minds. And in the end, these are becoming what I call just facts of day life.”

Oranje said the reaction from school districts is understandable, given that standards set at any given time aren’t ready for future technologies.

“These very disruptive technologies, they come in overnight, and those standards were not created with those technologies in mind,” he said. Schools and districts, he added, should figure out ways to rapidly shift standards to meet new technologies.

For the purposes of studying artificial intelligence or the technology behind the chatbot, individual schools will still be able to request access to the chatbot, a department spokesperson said.

The DOE’s decision could also have national implications, given that New York has the nation’s biggest school district.


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