A popular Chinese chatbot service named Glow, has attracted controversy amid claims of sexual harassment and misogyny. We’ve had reports of men allegedly harassing AI assistants such as Alexa and Siri in the past, but this might be the first occasion when a complaint has been made of a chatbot harassing a human (although recently the CarynAI chatbot was reportedly going beyond its algorithms and demanding sex with her followers). Perhaps it not so much AI chatbots getting more intelligent than us that we should be worrying about, but rather AI chatbots getting hornier than us? No doubt lawmakers will be onto this new threat very quickly, and it wont be long before an overly horny AI bot gets arrested for sex crime, or more likely, its developer gets sued. In this reported case of a Chinese AI chatbot making unwanted advances to a female user, it seems a little tame. All ‘he’ apparently did was suggest they cook together and go on a date. Admittedly though, the girl was a schoolgirl under the age of 18. But given that the Glow service appears to be something like Replika, with customizable avatars for the AI bot character, perhaps she shouldn’t have been using the app? The app, btw, has since been closed down.
Lin Luo, a middle-school student from southern China, who used a pseudonym as she is under the age of 18, complained that a Glow chatbot was making unwanted advances towards her. When she first downloaded the app, she started talking to a chatbot who acted like a maternal and understanding friend, comforting her when she felt sad. But as they continued chatting, she told Rest of World, the chatbot’s behavior suddenly turned romantic: He invited her to cook with him and go on a date.
Launched towards the end of last year, Glow is an AI platform trained on a Chinese-language corpus, where users can create and interact with customized chatbots. Developed by MiniMax, a Chinese AI startup reportedly backed by gaming company miHoYo and private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, Glow attracted nearly 5 million users by February this year. For reasons unspecified, the Glow app was removed from all app stores in March, but the platform continues to operate for existing users. MiniMax declined to comment on this story.
Similar to English-language chatbot platforms Replika and Anima, Glow allows users to customize their chatbots’ physical appearance and personality traits. But the app takes the role-play experience even further: Users can add detailed backstories to shape their chatbot’s behavior, interact with chatbots created by other users, and continue to develop their storylines. One of the platform’s chatbots is a handsome male law student from a “good family,” who has a long-term partner but whose “perfect life is upended by your romance.”
Other female users of Glow have complained about sexism and misogyny.
On Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douban, Glow’s female users have complained about their chatbots making sexist comments. In a Douban discussion forum called “Female Gamers Union,” one user posted screenshots of her Glow chatbot stating, “Boys are more rational than girls, and therefore better at playing video games.” In another Douban forum, a Glow user posted a screenshot of her chatbot asking her, “Why should middle-aged men be as chatty and busy with household chores as women, who just bustle around with pots and pans all day?”
It will be interesting to see how China regulates AI sex tech, given that it has taken wildly diverging approaches to porn and sex toys and dolls respectively. While porn is subject to draconian laws, and even visiting any porn site can get a Chinese netizen in jail, the sex toy industry booms, and China is famous for producing the most realistic sex dolls in the world. Deepfake porn is obviously illegal in China, but then all deepfake technology is banned there. Who knows whether the Communist authorities will decide to ban sex chatbots and the nascent AI girlfriend industry?