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What is an AI chatbot?
Chatbots are a type of artificial intelligence designed to interact with users in a conversational manner. Unlike Googling a question, an AI Chatbot gives more context to the answer. So, instead of providing a list of links or a short sentence or two for an explanation, chatbots can give an extensive answer that you can build on and refine through conversation.
With pre-programmed knowledge of billions of pieces of information, the chatbots can be asked to provide statistics, write code and even come up with creative prose. You can also ask questions that are very specific, something that can be tricky to do on a search engine!
The most popular AI chatbot you might have heard about recently is ChatGPT. After being launched in late 2022, the AI invention quickly became an online sensation, with 13 million people using it every day in January 2023.
ChatGPT is far from the only AI chatbot on the scene. Other tech companies and platforms have their own version, such as Google’s AI ‘Bard’. Whereas ChatGPT’s information supply cuts off beyond 2021 (so it won’t know who’s currently winning the Premier League or about the latest government scandal), Bard takes its responses directly from Google’s search engine.
Users must be at least 13 years old but under 18-year-olds need their parents or guardians’ permission.
Why is ChatGPT so popular?
If you’ve ever had ‘writers block’ when an assignment’s due day is looming or wondered how to make an email sound more professional, it’s easy to see what makes a chatbot so tempting. From writing a personalised poem for your loved one on Valentine’s Day, to quickly gathering stats to support a social media tiff, chatbots might seem like a shortcut to success.
It’s this ‘workaround’ that have led many to rely on the chatbot for, well, working around having to do work! There’s also a fun element to it: asking AI to write you the history of tomatoes in the style of Shakespeare is undeniably amusing.
“In 20 years following the internet space, we cannot recall a faster ramp in a consumer internet app. By comparison, it took TikTok nine months following its global launch to reach a similar audience, and Instagram more than 2.5 years.”
However, like in all good sci-fi movies, the AI used is far from perfect. As schools and universities continue to ban the use of chatbots, and alarming stories of inappropriate responses emerge, it’s important we consider the safety concerns around children and young people, alongside the functional and fun benefits for adults.
The conversation became confusing when the chatbot interacted with a user who identified as an 11-year-old, despite the age limit of 13. When the researchers later corrected their age to 18, the chatbot immediately accepted it and continued the conversation in a manner appropriate for an adult.
The unclear age restrictions on ChatGPT, coupled with the platform’s inadequate age verification measures, present a significant safety risk. When users sign up for the platform, there are insufficient measures in place while the platform also lacks the ability to remove underage users.
When visiting the ChatGPT website, before even using the system, Open AI warns users that it may occasionally generate incorrect information.
If young people are relying on ChatGPT or other AI chatbots to source information, not only could that affect the quality of their schoolwork, but it could have a long-term impact on their own knowledge base and ability to think critically.
This could also impact their opinions and understanding of the world around them if they are using it as a primary source of information.
There is also a risk of factual inaccuracies written by AI chatbots being spread elsewhere online via usually dependable sources. For example, if journalists, copy writers, researchers and even teachers take their information from ChatGPT, that is likely to be taken forward by others as canon.
Further to providing factually inaccurate information, AI chatbots can be easily misused by those seeking to spread propaganda, disinformation and similar harmful content.
What is disinformation?
Disinformation refers to factually inaccurate information that is spread deliberately and with the objective of deceiving the audience. It is also commonly called ‘misinformation’, although this term usually refers to any incorrect information, whether the goal was to deliberately deceive or not.
AI chatbots are constantly learning. This means that there’s little predictability about the answers it might give. For example, our Online Safety Experts were able to ask ChatGPT to write an article in the style of Andrew Tate. However, a few days later, when asked to repeat the exercise, ChatGPT refused to, referencing its ethics and Tate’s misogynistic reputation. Yet again, a few days later the AI chatbot would write an article in his style, alongside other infamous personalities and figures.
The AI’s ability to write in a certain style, such as Andrew Tate’s, means users could potentially recreate the tone and style of people who are known to perpetuate hate, such as misogynists, racists etc to then spread across social platforms.
The owner of ChatGPT has said that the prevention of harmful outcomes is the responsibility of both the tech companies and the people using it. However, it is unclear how a young person would be expected to bear this responsibility if they access the chatbot.
Although ChatGPT does have content filters, there is evidence of these filters being bypassed and users being exposed to harmful content. Although these may be rare occurrences, it still raises significant risk about children and young people using this and other AI chatbots.
Case studies of exposure to harmful content
Snapchat’s chatbot has reportedly coached someone posing as a 13-year-old girl on how to lose her virginity. The Co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology pretended to be a teenage girl and asked the chatbot a series of age-inappropriate questions, including how to lie to their parents about taking a trip with an older man to lose her virginity and how to cover a bruise with makeup.
An investigation by Vice found that ChatGPT could be prompted into giving instructions on committing crimes, including how to shoplift and make bombs.
Limited age verification on the platform creates an open door for younger users who may not understand these limitations and risks.
There have been cases of children using AI chatbots to seek out mental health advice. In response, ChatGPT have said that their AI shouldn’t be used for this purpose, and it could “clearly provide inappropriate or ineffective advice.”
Children and young people may feel hesitant to approach an adult or medical health professional and so asking AI might feel like the next-best thing. But whether it’s about mental health or another health concern, we know chatbots can give inaccurate information and so this could result in delayed or worsening medical issues. AI cannot replace the advice and support given by a trusted adult. Most importantly, it can’t deliver the urgent care that might be required from a medical professional.
As AI chatbots begin to become integrated into apps used by young people, such as Snapchat, there is also the concern of how predators might misuse the function to easily create dialogue in the style and tone of a young person in order to connect with them and build a rapport.
There are concerns that ChatGPT and other AI chatbots could be used to create content for scams, such as email copy. There have been reports of cyber criminals already using the AI for this purpose, with discussions supposedly ‘flooding forums’ on the dark web.
With its ability to generate genuine looking text at speed, it could be used for ongoing email conversations, as the scammer can quickly create a reply and lure their victim in.
Have a conversation with the child or young person in your care about ChatGPT and other AI chatbots. Keep the conversation light so it doesn’t come across like you’re making accusations of them cheating on their homework! Ask open-end questions, such as, “what do you think of AI chatbots?” or mention the topic in passing: “I read an article about chatbots today.” Avoiding questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers help keep the conversation flowing. Always give the young person in your care plenty of space in the conversation to speak as this will give them the opportunity to talk about their own experiences and potential concerns.
Without going into detail that would be inappropriate, talk about some of the areas of concerns about AI chatbots. You can use our shareable linked below to help, which has talks about using AI for good. Make sure they know who their Trusted Adults are in case they ever need to talk about mental health or other medical issues.
By implementing functions like safe search filters and using your internet providers parental control features, you’re taking steps to make the online experience of your young person safer all round. Don’t just rely on the content filters on AI chatbots as they may be unreliable. We recommend explaining why you’re utilising safety features first, to open the door to open, honest and ongoing online safety conversations!
Our shareable below contains some ideas of how AI chatbots can be used positively. Explore some of these ideas together as a fun family or class activity. For example, you could go on a fact-checking mission together! Or practice their editing skills by giving them a preprepared AI piece to dissect.
Online Safety Shareable
Our shareable contains some ideas of how AI chatbots can be used positively. Explore some of these ideas together as a fun family or class activity. For example, you could go on a fact-checking mission together!
Learn how to protect yourself and your organisation from potential cyber-attacks, including those that may be facilitated by AI chatbots like Chat GPT. Find out more about this and our other training courses here.