Popular Science discusses a school board in Iowa using ChatGPT to itemize the books that should be removed from library shelves because they ‘contain a description or depiction of a sex act’ – evidently completely unaware of the AI’s proclivity to make things up about … well, anything:
. The ban attempts to comply with a new law requiring Iowa school library catalogs to be both “age appropriate” and devoid of “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” Speaking with The Gazette last week, Mason City’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bridgette Exman argued it was “simply not feasible to read every book and filter for these new requirements.”
“Frankly, we have more important things to do than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to protect kids from books,” Exman tells PopSci via email. “At the same time, we do have a legal and ethical obligation to comply with the law. Our goal here really is a defensible process.”
According to The Gazette, the resulting strategy involved compiling a master list of commonly challenged books, then utilizing a previously unnamed “AI software” to supposedly provide textual analysis for each title. Flagged books were then removed from Mason City’s 7-12th grade school library collections and “stored in the Administrative Center” as educators “await further guidance or clarity.” Titles included Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights.
Regardless of whether or not any of the titles do or do not contain said content, ChatGPT’s varying responses highlight troubling deficiencies of accuracy, analysis, and consistency. A repeat inquiry regarding The Kite Runner, for example, gives contradictory answers. In one response, ChatGPT deems Khaled Hosseini’s novel to contain “little to no explicit sexual content.” Upon a separate follow-up, the LLM affirms the book “does contain a description of a sexual assault.”