Ed-Tech Policy

What the Head of ChatGPT Told Congress About AI’s Potential

By Alyson Klein — May 16, 2023 3 min read
Artificial intelligence and schoolwork image with hand holding pencil with digital AI collage overtop
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As artificial intelligence dominates more of the conversation in health, defense, and of course K-12 education, Congress is starting to think in earnest about how to write laws for this brand-new, booming, and little understood technology.

As part of that effort, members of the Senate panel that oversees privacy and technology heard on May 16 from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI. That’s the company that created ChatGPT, a tool that can write an essay explaining how the U.S. Constitution was written, a book report on The Great Gatsby, and a haiku on flowers with human-like fluency.

Students have used the technology to inform—and sometimes to cheat on—their school assignments. Some schools have decided to outright ban it, against the advice of most experts, who say that the next generation of workers needs to understand AI tools.

Lawmakers steered clear of discussion about K-12 students using ChatGPT to cheat, but had plenty of other questions for Altman.

Here’s how he handled queries about the future of work, privacy, the impact of AI on children, and other AI issues that educators have been wondering about.

Preparing students for the future of work

OpenAI’s CEO has no clear vision for how ChatGPT and other AI technologies will change the future of work, something educators are already wrestling with. But he’s certain the impact will be profound.

“Like with all technological revolutions, I expect there to be significant impact on jobs. But exactly what that impact looks like is very difficult to predict,” Altman said, in response to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees technology. “I believe that there will be far greater jobs on the other side of this and that the jobs of today will get better. You see already people that are using [AI] to do their job much more efficiently.”

Safeguarding children’s privacy

ChatGPT and other AI tools need data to be able to make recommendations, surface information, and process language in a way that mimics what humans can do. But Altman believes users should be able to decide if their own personal data is used to “train” machines.

“We think that people should be able to say ‘I don’t want my personal data [used to train AI],’” he said.

Combatting the spread of misinformation and disinformation

Another big concern educators have about AI is that it could help spread misinformation and disinformation. It makes false news stories and baseless social media posts easier to create and share. Schools are already working to combat the spread of misinformation and disinformation online by teaching media literacy.

Altman believes AI-created work should be identified as such. “I think some regulation would be quite wise on this topic,” he said. “People need to know if they’re talking to an AI, if content that they’re looking at might be generated [by AI]. I think a great thing to do is to make that clear.”

Protecting children from negative impacts of technology

Congress has largely dropped the ball—at least so far—when it comes to regulating social media, a technology that many physicians, researchers, educators, and parents believe has had a serious impact on student mental health, leading some school districts to sue social media companies to cover the mental health services schools are providing to students.

But, in response to a question from Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., about his product’s impact on children, Altman said that ChatGPT doesn’t work to keep users on its platform the way social media companies do.

“We’re not trying to get people to use it more and more and I think that’s a different shape than ad-supported social media,” he said.

But he added that he understood the senators’ concerns that AI could spread misinformation or seek to influence kids. “[T]hese systems do have the capability to influence in obvious and in very nuanced ways. And I think that’s particularly important for the safety of children, but that will impact all of us.”

ChatGPT can refuse to generate content about self-harm, violence, or other “adult” issues, Altman said, without providing specific examples of how that works.

Ensuring AI isn’t used to plagiarize

The hearing didn’t directly address cheating in K-12 schools, but it did explore how AI could be used as a high-tech form of plagiarism.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who represents Tennessee, a state that’s home to many song writers, pressed Altman on AI tools’ ability to write music in the style of, for instance, country superstar Garth Brooks. Shouldn’t Brooks get credit for any music created by AI tools mimicking his approach that’s sold commercially?

“We think that creators deserve control over how their creations are used,” he said.

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy From Our Research Center Schools Are Taking Too Long to Craft AI Policy. Why That's a Problem
Nearly 8 of every 10 educators say their districts don’t have clear AI policies, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey.
8 min read
A person sits at a computer and tries to figure out a cloud of AI Policy Confusion
Kathleen Fu for Education Week
Ed-Tech Policy The 'Homework Gap' Is About to Get Worse. What Should Schools Do?
The looming expiration of a federal program has districts worried that many students will not have adequate home internet access.
4 min read
A young boy does homework with a tablet at the kitchen table.
Ilona Titova/iStock
Ed-Tech Policy These State Lawmakers Want All School Districts to Craft AI Policies. Will Others Follow?
The vast majority of districts in the country have not released AI guidance, even though educators say they need it.
2 min read
Woman using a computer chatting with an intelligent artificial intelligence.
iStock/Getty
Ed-Tech Policy National Ed-Tech Plan Outlines How Schools Can Tackle 3 Big Digital Inequities
There's great potential for districts to use technology to meet all students' individual learning needs, federal plan suggests.
3 min read
High angle shot of a man assisting his students at computers
iStock/Getty