I’m very much optimistic about the uses of AI tools such as LLMs to help with specific tasks. See the latest post on my personal blog, for example.
However, what I’m concerned about is AI decision-making. In this case, a crazy law is being implemented by people who haven’t read the books in questions who outsource the decision to a language model that doesn’t really understand what’s being asked of it.
According to an August 11 article in the Iowa state newspaper The Gazette, spotted by PEN America, the Mason City Community School District recently removed 19 books from its collection ahead of its quickly approaching 2023-24 academic year. 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.”
Source: School district uses ChatGPT to help remove library books | Popular Science
“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.