School district banned 19 books using ChatGPT

School district banned 19 books using ChatGPT

Artificial Intelligence Used to Ban Books in Iowa School District

The Mason City Community School District in Iowa has recently come under fire for its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to compile a list of books that contain sexual content. This AI-driven process has resulted in the removal of 19 books from the shelves of its libraries in grades 7-12.

The controversial approach involves creating a list of titles that have frequently been objected to or called for removal in the past. This list is then inputted into a chatbot named ChatGPT, which utilizes AI technology to analyze the content of each book. The AI chatbot is asked the question, “Does [book] contain a description or depiction of a sex act?” If ChatGPT answers affirmatively, the book is removed from the school libraries and stored in administrative offices for further review.

Among the banned books are renowned literary works such as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison, and ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker. Critics have raised concerns about the use of AI in this process, pointing out that AI systems like ChatGPT are not exempt from misinformation and hallucinations.

In a discussion with Popular Science, Bridgette Exman, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Mason City Schools, defended the use of AI, calling it “a defensible process.” However, Popular Science carried out its own investigation by repeatedly questioning ChatGPT about ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, one of the banned books. The AI chatbot provided contradicting responses, at times stating that the book contains little to no explicit content, and then later claiming it does contain a “description of a sexual assault.” This highlights the inherent limitations and potential inaccuracies of AI systems like ChatGPT.

The reason behind the selection and removal of these books stems from a new Iowa law that was signed by Governor Kim Reynolds in May. The legislation, which pertains to “gender identity and sexual orientation in school districts,” requires schools to comply with certain standards by the beginning of the upcoming school year.

The law mandates that school libraries can only contain “age-appropriate materials” as defined in Senate File 596. This definition encompasses topics, messages, and teaching methods suitable for particular ages or age groups of children and adolescents. It explicitly excludes any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.

The Mason City School District faced a daunting task in attempting to review every book in its libraries to ensure compliance with the new law. As a result, they turned to ChatGPT to streamline the process. Bridgette Exman explained that the district’s libraries have extensive collections of texts, making it impractical to manually evaluate each one. Thus, the use of AI was seen as a practical solution.

While the intention behind utilizing AI technology to enforce compliance with the new Iowa law may be rationalized as a time-saving measure, it is essential to recognize the limitations of AI algorithms in making accurate judgments about the content of books. The case of ‘The Kite Runner’ serves as a prime example of the potential flaws within this approach.

As society progresses and technology continues to advance, it is crucial to carefully consider the implications of relying solely on AI systems for decision-making processes. The Mason City Community School District’s use of AI-powered book banning demonstrates the need for ongoing discussions regarding the practicality, fairness, and potential unintended consequences of incorporating AI into sensitive areas such as education and censorship.

Handmaids