But if a would-be buyer signals an intent to purchase sex, the bot pivots sharply into a stern message.“Buying sex from anyone is illegal and can cause serious long term harm to the victim, as well as further the cycle of human trafficking,” goes one such message.
Last summer, the volunteers began thinking about bots, after Microsoft launched a bot-building toolkit aimed at automating customer service.
Limitations of the software have produced mixed results for businesses, but the deter-o-bot has proven good enough at its job.“It helps that the guys who are buying sex are not paying much attention to the human being on the other end of the phone,” says Beiser, of Seattle Against Slavery.
Those working with the new tools hope the software can help with that problem, too, by allowing groups to test different messages and approaches at large scale, and gauge which are most effective.
“The hope is to get this activity down and protect a lot of people,” says Beiser.
The robots had been instructed to work out how to negotiate between themselves, and improve their bartering as they went along.
But they were not told to use comprehensible English, allowing them to create their own "shorthand", according to researchers.
Before long, 40 colleagues had joined to volunteer on the project.
Photo DNA is now used by more than 70 companies and organizations, including Facebook and Twitter.
“Wasting their time and delivering a deterrence message could change their perspective on what they’re doing.”Project Intercept was started in 2012 by two Microsoft employees after seeing a documentary about sex trafficking, .
“I thought we should be able to use the things that we work with every day to help,” says Greg, a senior product manager at Microsoft, who asked not to disclose his last name to avoid recriminations from people involved in the sex trade.
So far, the chatbot has exchanged 14,000 messages with nearly 1,000 people who responded to the planted ads.