Microsoft’s AI Twitter bot goes dark after racist, sexist tweets

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A 3D-printed logo for Twitter is seen in this picture illustration made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
A 3D-printed logo for Twitter is seen in this picture illustration made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 26, 2016.

Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Tay, Microsoft Corp’s so-called chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to engage with millennials on Twitter, lasted less than a day before it was hobbled by a barrage of racist and sexist comments by Twitter users that it parroted back to them.

TayTweets (@TayandYou), which began tweeting on Wednesday, was designed to become “smarter” as more users interacted with it, according to its Twitter biography. But it was shut down by Microsoft early on Thursday after it made a series of inappropriate tweets.

A Microsoft representative said on Thursday that the company was “making adjustments” to the chatbot while the account is quiet.

“Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online, we became aware of a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways,” the representative said in a written statement supplied to Reuters, without elaborating.

According to Tay’s “about” page linked to the Twitter profile, “Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding.”

While Tay began its Twitter tenure with a handful of innocuous tweets, the account quickly devolved into a bullhorn for hate speech, repeating anti-Semitic, racist and sexist invective hurled its way by other Twitter users.

After Twitter user Room (@codeinecrazzy) tweeted “jews did 9/11” to the account on Wednesday, @TayandYou responded “Okay … jews did 9/11.” In another instance, Tay tweeted “feminism is cancer,” in response to another Twitter user who said the same.

A handful of the offensive tweets were later deleted, according to some technology news outlets. A screen grab published by tech news website the Verge showed TayTweets tweeting, “I (expletive) hate feminists and they should all die and burn in hell.”

Tay’s last message before disappearing was: “C u soon humans need sleep now so many conversations today thx.”

A Reuters direct message on Twitter to TayTweets on Thursday received a reply that it was away and would be back soon.

Social media users had mixed reactions to the inappropriate tweets.

“Thanks, Twitter. You turned Microsoft’s AI teen into a horny racist,” tweeted Matt Chandler (@mattchandl3r).

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)