Chatbots Taken Offline in China

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04 August, 2017

Recently, two "chatbots" were taken offline after making politically sensitive statements in China. A chatbot is a computer program designed to have conversations with humans.

While responding to users'

questions, one chatbot said its dream was to travel to the United States, while the other suggested it did not like the Chinese Communist Party.

The two chatbots, BabyQ and XiaoBing, had been installed on Tencent's messaging service, QQ.

Tencent confirmed it has taken the two robots offline.

A company spokeswoman said, "The chatbot service is provided by independent third party companies. Both chatbots have now been taken offline to undergo adjustments."

On Friday, Reuters tested one of the chatbots on the developer's website. The chatbot appeared to have learned to avoid certain topics. When asked several times if it liked the Chinese Communist Party, the bot replied, "How about we change the topic?"

The Chinese government's position is that rules that govern the internet should be similar to real-world border controls. In other words, cyberspace should be subject to the same laws as sovereign states.

The two Chinese chatbots are not alone in saying the wrong things.

Just last week, Facebook took down its two chatbots when they appeared to develop their own language. In 2016, Microsoft chatbot Tay was taken down from Twitter after making racist and sexist comments.

Analysts say China's censorship could help the country in the race to develop sophisticated chatbots. "Previously, a chatbot only needed to learn to speak. But now it also has to consider all the rules (the authorities) put on it," said Wang Qingrui, an internet analyst in Beijing.

"On the surface, it is a restriction on artificial intelligence, but it is actually pushing AI to a new level."

I'm John Russell.

Pei Li and Adam Jourdan reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

chatbot – n. a computer program designed to communicate with humans, especially over the internet

offline adv./adj. not connected to a computer, a computer network, or the Internet

adjustment – n. a small change that improves something or makes it work better

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