Almost immediately after ChatGPT, a captivating artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, was released late last year, school districts across the country moved to limit or block access to it. As rationale, they cited a combination of potential negative impacts on student learning and concerns about plagiarism, privacy and content accuracy.

These districts’ reactions to ChatGPT have led to a debate among policymakers and parents, teachers and technologists about the utility of this new chatbot. This deliberation magnifies a troubling truth: Superintendents, principals and teachers are making decisions about the adoption of emerging technology without the answers to fundamental questions about the benefits and risks.

Technology has the potential to modernize education and help prepare students for an increasingly complex future. But the risks to children are just beginning to be uncovered. Creating a policy and regulatory framework focused on building a deeper understanding of the benefits and risks of emerging technologies, and protecting children where the evidence is incomplete, is not alarmist, but a responsible course of action.

Why act now?

First, recent history has demonstrated that emerging technology can pose real risks to children. Evidence suggests a correlation between time spent on social media and adolescent anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. These impacts seem particularly significant for GenZ teenage girls.

Second, immersive technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and brain-computer interfaces, may intensify the benefits and risks to children. Immersive technologies have the potential to fundamentally remake teaching and learning. But the impact on childhood development of exposure to multisensory experiences replicating the physical world in digital spaces is just beginning to be understood — and there is cause for concern based on limited research.

Third, the digital divide has narrowed considerably. Government and the private sector have driven improvements in internet access at schools, expanded cellular networks and made mobile and computing devices significantly more affordable. Since 2014-15, the percentage of teens who have a smartphone has increased from 73% to 95%. Paired with money from COVID-19 legislation that allowed schools to invest in hardware, more children will have opportunities to use emerging technologies than ever had access to older innovations — including apps and the internet — at home and in school.

Read the full article about new technologies by Andrew Buher and Hal Friedlander at The 74.