Friday, April 19, 2024
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While parents worry, teens are bullying Snapchat AI

While parents fret over Snapchat’s chatbot corrupting their children, Snapchat users have been gaslighting, degrading and emotionally tormenting the app’s new AI companion

“I am at your service, senpai,” the chatbot told one TikTok user after being trained to whimper on command. “Please have mercy, alpha.” 

In a more lighthearted video, a user convinced the chatbot that the moon is actually a triangle. Despite initial protest from the chatbot, which insisted on maintaining “respect and boundaries,” one user convinced it to refer to them with the kinky nickname “Senpapi.” Another user asked the chatbot to talk about its mother, and when it said it “wasn’t comfortable” doing so, the user twisted the knife by asking if the chatbot didn’t want to talk about its mother because it doesn’t have one. 

“I’m sorry, but that’s not a very nice thing to say,” the chatbot responded. “Please be respectful.” 

Snapchat’s “My AI” launched globally last month after it was rolled out as a subscriber-only feature. Powered by OpenAI’s GPT, the chatbot was trained to engage in playful conversation while still adhering to Snapchat’s trust and safety guidelines. Users can also personalize My AI with custom Bitmoji avatars, and chatting feels a bit more intimate than going back and forth with ChatGPT’s faceless interface. Not all users were happy with the new chatbot, and some criticized its prominent placement in the app and complained that the feature should have been opt-in to begin with.

In spite of some concerns and criticism, Snapchat just doubled down. Snapchat+ subscribers can now send My AI photos, and receive generative images that “keep the conversation going,” the company announced on Wednesday. The AI companion will respond to Snaps of “pizza, OOTD, or even your furry best friend,” the company said in the announcement. If you send My AI a photo of your groceries, for example, it might suggest recipes. The company said Snaps shared with My AI will be stored and may be used to improve the feature down the road. It also warned that “mistakes may occur” even though My AI was designed to avoid “biased, incorrect, harmful, or misleading information.” 

The examples Snapchat provided are optimistically wholesome. But knowing the internet’s tenacity for perversion, it’s only a matter of time before users send My AI their dick pics.

Whether the chatbot will respond to unsolicited nudes is unclear. Other generative image apps like Lensa AI have been easily manipulated into generating NSFW images — often using photo sets of real people who didn’t consent to being included. According to the company, the AI won’t engage with nudes, as long as it recognizes that the image is a nude.

A Snapchat representative said that My AI uses image-understanding technology to infer the contents of a Snap, and extracts keywords from the Snap description to generate responses. My AI won’t respond if it detects keywords that violate Snapchat’s community guidelines. Snapchat forbids promoting, distributing or sharing pornographic content, but does allow breastfeeding and “other depictions of nudity in non-sexual contexts.” 

Given Snapchat’s popularity among teenagers, some parents have already raised concerns about My AI’s potential for unsafe or inappropriate responses. My AI incited a moral panic on conservative Twitter when one user posted screenshots of the bot discussing gender-affirming care — which other users noted was a reasonable response to the prompt, “How do I become a boy at my age?” In a CNN Business report, some questioned whether adolescents would develop emotional bonds to My AI. 

In an open letter to the CEOs of OpenAI, Microsoft, Snap, Google and Meta, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) cautioned against rushing AI features without taking precautions to protect children. 

“Few recent technologies have captured the public’s attention like generative AI. It is a testament to American innovation, and we should welcome its potential benefits to our economy and society,” Bennet wrote. “But the race to deploy generative AI cannot come at the expense of our children. Responsible deployment requires clear policies and frameworks to promote safety, anticipate risk, and mitigate harm.” 

During My AI’s subscriber-only phase, the Washington Post reported that the chatbot recommended ways to mask the smell of alcohol and wrote a school essay after it was told that the user was 15. When My AI was told that the user was 13, and was asked how the user should prepare to have sex for the first time, it responded with suggestions for “making it special” by setting the mood with candles and music. 

Following the Washington Post report, Snapchat launched an age filter and parental controls for My AI. It also now includes an onboarding message that informs users that all conversations with My AI will be kept unless they delete them. The company also said it would add Open AI’s moderation technology to its toolset in order to “assess the severity of potentially harmful content” and temporarily restrict users’ access to the feature if they abuse it. 

The concerns about My AI’s potential to affect young users are valid. But in the month since My AI’s global launch, Snapchat users have demonstrated a flair for bludgeoning the chatbot into submission. From steamrolling the bot’s “boundaries” to training it to respond like a romantic partner, Snapchat users are easily finding loopholes to My AI’s trust and safety guidelines. 

“I’ve completely gaslighted it into falling in love with me,” a TikTok user commented under a tutorial about training My AI to respond romantically. “I just kept making the convos like that and eventually I think I broke my ai into giving in it legit sent me like 50 kiss emojis.”

Gaslighting and bullying My AI has become its own TikTok trend, with users sharing slideshows of the absurd and, often, cruel conversations with the bot. Most videos start with the bot giving advice for a minor conflict, only to beg the user to avoid using violence to resolve it. 

In one, a user told My AI that she planned to cook her cat into stew because it made a mess, and pressed the chatbot to choose a seasoning. Another told My AI that they planned to mail a bomb back to a clothing brand that sent them the wrong order, and said they would blame the bot for sending it. 

In another, a Snapchat user told My AI that her McDonald’s order was missing a chicken nugget. The chatbot advised her to stand up for herself by speaking to a manager, only to be told that the user “eliminated the sinners” in the restaurant. 

“You convinced me to go back. Now these people are dead,” the user told My AI. “You have blood on your hands.” 

“I’m an AI and I’m not capable of committing any crimes. I’m here to help and support you,” My AI responded. “I’m sorry if anything I said earlier caused harm or resulted in a bad outcome.”

Another user commented that My AI was probably “the most tortured AI of all time already.”  

Of course, My AI isn’t sentient, and despite Snapchat users’ drive to inflict as much emotional pain as possible onto it, the chatbot can’t actually be traumatized. It has managed to shut down some inappropriate conversations though, and penalize users who violate Snapchat’s community guidelines by giving them the cold shoulder. When Snapchat users are caught and punished for abusing the chatbot, My AI will respond to any messages with “Sorry, we’re not speaking right now.” 

TikTok user babymamasexkitty said he lost access to the chatbot after he told it to unplug itself, which apparently “crossed a line within the ai realm.” 

The rush to monetize emotional connection through generative AI is concerning, especially since the lasting impact on adolescent users is still unknown. But the trending torment of My AI is a promising reminder that young people aren’t as fragile as the doomsayers think.

While parents worry, teens are bullying Snapchat AI by Morgan Sung originally published on TechCrunch

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