Group Replaces Hotline With Chatbot, Pulls Chatbot Over Bad Advice

National Eating Disorder Association pulls the plug on Tessa, for now
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2023 3:45 PM CDT
Eating Disorder Chatbot Yanked Over Bad Advice
Stock image. Some of the chatbot's advice appeared to be iffy for those with eating disorders.   (Getty Images / Tippapatt)

It's a move that might delight anyone concerned about the potential job-killing effects from artificial intelligence tools. As the BBC reports, the US National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) had to take down its AI chatbot "Tessa" after it began recommending potentially harmful diet strategies to people with eating disorders. This occurred just a week after NEDA elected to use the bot instead of a live, human-operated helpline. The group announced the problem with Tessa in an Instagram post, per Fortune. "It came to our attention ... that the current version of the Tessa Chatbot …may have given information that was harmful," the post reads. "We are investigating this immediately and have taken down that program until further notice for a complete investigation.”

As NPR reported Wednesday, NEDA pivoted to AI after running its live helpline for people suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders for more than two decades. The nonprofit reportedly notified helpline staff less than a week after they'd formed a union. NEDA said the shift had nothing to do with live employees unionizing and everything to do with a considerable increase in calls and texts to the hotline during the COVID-19 pandemic. That rise in call volume, according to NEDA leadership, meant increased liability, and therefore the "pivot to the expanded use of AI-assisted technology."

As for Tessa's bad behavior, CNN reports NEDA CEO Liz Thompson blamed "bad actors" purposefully trying to prompt the chatbot into giving harmful or even unrelated advice to users. Prior to the bot's problems being made public, the former helpline staffers tweeted a statement in which they said chatbots cannot "substitute for human empathy, and we believe this decision will cause irreparable harm to the eating disorders community." (More artificial intelligence stories.)

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