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Google Chat trials teenage 'robot' to trap paedophiles

A "virtual Lolita" posing as a 14-year-old girl has been trialled on Google Chat (opens in new tab) to try and catch out paedophiles.

All major web and telecoms companies are under pressure from the UK government to find solutions that can address public fears about the prevalence of online paedophiles, and the widespread availability of child porn on the Internet.

The likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, BT and Virgin Media were recently summoned to talks with ministers and officials to discuss ways of tackling the problem.

The "Negobot" developed by researchers from the University of Deusto, near Bilbao, uses artificial intelligence (AI) software to chat and mimic the language used by teenagers.

The virtual Lolita will start talking online in a neutral manner but will adopt one of seven personalities according to the intensity of interactions and suggestions made.

The technology could be used to help police initiate investigations into possible paedophiles.

One of Negobot's creators, Dr Carlos Laorden, said that in the past "chatbots" have tended to be very predictable. He told the BBC (opens in new tab), "Their behaviour and interest in a conversation is flat, which is a problem when attempting to detect untrustworthy targets like paedophiles."

In contrast, the Negobot uses advanced decision-making strategies known as "game theory" to simulate convincing chats as they develop. It can also take the lead in conversations, and remember specific facts about what had been discussed previously.

The Negobot can also use child-like language and slang, as well as introducing spelling mistakes to further disguise itself to predators.

In response to requests for personal information it is able to to ask for mobile numbers and other social network information of predators in response, information that can then be handed over to police for further investigation.