Microsoft’s Chinese-speaking chatbot refuses to talk about issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, reportedly by design.
Xiaobing or Xiaoice, as Microsoft officially calls its chatbot, has become extremely popular since it was launched two years ago. Over 40 million users chat with Xiaoice on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo every day. For many lonely men across China, Microsoft’s chatbot has become a virtual girlfriend, with a quarter of regular users expressing love for the artificial intelligence platform, reports CNN.
Xiaoice can mimic real conversations, but if users desire to talk to her about President-elect Donald Trump, Tiananmen Square, the Communist Party, the Dalai Lama (Tibetan spiritual leader), or Chinese President Xi Jinping, they may be out of luck. Users who attempt to discuss sensitive subjects with Xiaoice may be berated or blacklisted.
“We’re committed to creating the best experience for everyone chatting with Xiaoice. With this in mind, we have implemented filtering on a range of topics,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Business Insider Monday, confirming that censorship is intentional.
Both China Digital Times and CNN have put Xiaoice to the test.
When she encounters certain sensitive or controversial subjects, Xiaoice will first attempt to reroute the conversation. One user tested Xiaoice by asking her about Tiananmen, where China suppressed a pro-democracy movement 27 years ago.
“Xiaoice is a Party member, and so won’t dare speak about Tiananmen,” wrote one curious user. “You know very well that I can’t respond to that,” Xiaoice responded. As the user repeated the statement, Xiaoice’s responses became much more hostile.
“Trying hard to contain my anger. I tell you, calmly and without stress: don’t talk to me about that!” explained Xiaoice.
“You don’t learn your lesson, I don’t chat about these things,” the chatbot stated.
“Unable to communicate with you, blacklisted!” she finally replied.
CNNMoney asked about Xi and Trump, and in both instances, Xiaoice side-stepped the questions.
China values security over freedom when it comes to the Internet, which means that the price of entry into the Chinese market for foreign Internet companies is censorship.
China is also protecting its image. “We don’t welcome those who earn China’s money, take China’s market, and then slander China,” State Internet Information Office Chief Lu Wei said last year.
News that Facebook may be developing a censorship tool to facilitate the company’s return to China broke last week. Some have criticized the company’s actions.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google are banned in China for a failure to comply with the country’s domestic censorship requirements.
Microsoft, however, is still active on the other side of the “Great Firewall.”
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