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New York City public schools will ban students and teachers from using ChatGPT, a powerful new artificial intelligence tool, on district networks and devices, an official confirmed to CNN on Thursday.
The move comes amid growing concerns that the tool, which generates disturbingly convincing answers and even essays in response to user prompts, could make it easier for students to cheat on assignments.
Some are also concerned that ChatGPT could be used to spread inaccurate information.
"Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning and concerns about content security and accuracy, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools networks and devices," it said. Jenna Lyle, deputy press secretary for New York Public Schools, in a statement.
"While the tool can provide quick and easy answers to questions, it doesn't build critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success," Lyle added.
Although the chatbot is restricted under the new policy, New York City public schools can request specific access to the tool for educational purposes related to technology and artificial intelligence.
The educational publication ChalkBeat was the first to report the news.
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New York City appears to be one of the first major school districts to crack down on ChatGPT, just a month after the tool was released.
Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District moved to preemptively block the site on all networks and devices in its system "to protect academic honesty while a risk/benefit assessment is conducted," a district spokesperson told CNN this week.
While there are genuine concerns about how ChatGPT could be used, it's unclear how widely adopted it is among students.
Meanwhile, other districts seem to be moving more slowly.
Peter Feng, the public information officer for the South San Francisco Unified School District, said the district is aware of the potential for its students to use ChatGPT but has "not yet instituted a full ban."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia said it was "not aware of students using ChatGPT nor have we received any complaints from principals or teachers."
In a statement shared with CNN after the publication, a spokesperson for OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research lab behind the tool, said ChatGPT was available as a research preview to learn from real-world usage.
The spokesperson called that step a "critical part of developing and deploying safe and capable AI systems."
“We are constantly incorporating feedback and lessons learned,” the spokesperson added.
The company said its goal is to work with educators on ways to help teachers and students benefit from artificial intelligence.
“We don't want ChatGPT being used for deceptive purposes in schools or anywhere else, so we're already developing mitigations to help anyone identify ChatGPT-generated text,” the spokesperson said.
What is ChatGPT?
OpenAI opened access to ChatGPT at the end of November.
The tool is capable of providing lengthy, thoughtful, and comprehensive answers to questions and prompts, ranging from factual questions like "Who was the President of the United States in 1955?"
to more open questions like "What is the meaning of life?".
The tool surprised users, including academics and some in the tech industry.
ChatGPT is a language model trained on a large amount of online information to create its responses.
It comes from the same company behind DALL-E, which generates a seemingly limitless range of images in response to user input.
ChatGPT went viral within days of its launch.
Open AI co-founder Sam Altman, a prominent Silicon Valley investor, said on Twitter in early December that ChatGPT had surpassed 1 million users.
But many educators fear that students will use the tool to cheat on assignments.
One user, for example, sent ChatGPT an English exam question and responded with a 5-paragraph essay on Wuthering Heights.
Another user asked the chatbot to write an essay on the life of William Shakespeare four times.
He received a unique version of the same statement each time.
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Darren Hicks, an assistant professor of philosophy at Furman University, previously told CNN that it will be more difficult to prove when a student misuses ChatGPT than when they do other forms of cheating.
“In the more traditional forms of plagiarism, internet cheating, copy-pasting stuff, I can go and find additional evidence, evidence that I can then bring to a board hearing,” he said.
"In this case, there's nothing you can point to and say 'Here's the material they took.'"
“It's really a new take on an old problem where students would pay someone or get someone to write their paper for them,” Hicks added.
“This is just that it is instant and free.”
Feng, from the South San Francisco Unified School District, told CNN that "some teachers have responded to the rise of AI text generators by using their own tools to check whether work submitted by students has been plagiarized or generated by through AI”.
Some companies like Turnitin, a screening tool used by thousands of school districts to scan the internet for signs of plagiarism, are now looking into how their software could detect the use of AI-generated text in student submissions.
Hicks said teachers will need to rethink assignments so the tool can't easily write them down.
“The biggest problem,” Hicks added, “is going to be that administrations have to figure out how they will solve these types of cases.”
-- CNN's Abby Phillip contributed to this report.
-- CNN's Abby Phillip contributed to this report.