Having an AI posing as bait during a massive sting operation might sound like something right out of a science fiction novel, but this practice has already taken place today. As the internet continues to grow to massive proportions, it becomes increasingly hard to police it. One Dutch charity’s solution? An AI chatbot posing as a young Filipina girl online. The charity Terre des Hommes recently decided to tackle a growing feature in the world of cyber crime– webcam sex trafficking.
So how did the operation work? The charity set up a young CGI girl by the name of Sweetie to pose as a victim for potential sexual predators that would try to interact with her. Their main objective was to be able to lure in pedophiles without using real children or any information relating to them at all. Sting operations used to catch sexual predators red handed are nothing new, in fact the Americans have even created a TV show revolving around it. The issue is that this is a massive problem on a scale that is unfathomable, and there simply aren’t enough members of law enforcement to organize these sting operations or to stay in contact with potential predators until enough evidence is compiled.
Noticing this problem, Terre des Hommes decided to use the current knowledge of AI to their advantage. If they were able to create an AI that could respond to predators accurately enough, they would no longer need as many members of law enforcement keeping in contact with the criminals. But predators online can get paranoid that they might get caught, and usually require some kind of evidence to prove the existence of their victim, which is where Sweetie’s CGI face comes in.
Some members of law enforcement were somewhat apprehensive at the results, such as Europol stating that these sorts of operations are bests left to be handled by law enforcement with the proper formation. Obviously it isn’t possible to disagree with that, but what they fail address in their statement is that there simply aren’t enough members of law enforcement available to tackle the issue of child abuse online. Terres des Hommes is certainly not trying to act as a police task force– as a matter of fact all of the data recorded is forwarded to the police in order to hopefully build a strong enough case against the predators.
Are there disadvantages to this strategy? Yes, of course, it isn’t foolproof, and AI today is still not perfect. At the end of the day it would still be better to have real people behind machines controlling what is being said and what is being recorded. But I certainly don’t think that the initiative behind Sweetie’s mission is to entirely replace real people in policing crime, but rather to use our knowledge of AI as a tool. What most people need to realize is that offenders committing these crimes online are also likely to enact upon them in the real world. So, if we can gather enough evidence to put a potential sex offender behind bars, why shouldn’t we?
(This blogpost is somewhat of an extension of my last blogpost on fighting crime in the digital age. Originally this was meant to be part of that same blogpost but I thought it deserved its own discussion.)