“It’s really accelerated our ability to reach people,” says Amanda Hightower, executive director of nonprofit Real Escape from the Sex Trade, or REST.
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.
Microsoft employees built the bot in a philanthropic initiative called Project Intercept, in collaboration with nonprofits that hope it can reduce demand for sex workers, and the incentives for criminals to coerce people into the sex trade.
The technology is not a product of Microsoft itself.
“There aren’t enough detectives in the world to match the size of this market,” says Roe-Sepowitz.
Don’t expect the Microsoft tools to make a huge dent in demand overnight.Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, says they could help expand the reach of anti-trafficking efforts.Research in Phoenix has shown that on average a single online sex ad attracts 63 potential buyers.The chatbot, tested recently in Seattle, Atlanta, and Washington, lurks behind fake online ads for sex posted by nonprofits working to combat human trafficking, and responds to text messages sent to the number listed.The software initially pretends to be the person in the ad, and can converse about its purported age, body, fetish services, and pricing.chatbots to businesses as a way to keep customers coming back for more.