The National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 5,000 reports of sex trafficking in 2016, but most cases are believed to go unreported.
It harvests phone numbers from real online sex ads, and automatically sends messages to sex workers offering support or assistance getting out of the trade.
Responses are routed to an experienced nonprofit employee or volunteer.
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.
“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.
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.
But if a would-be buyer signals an intent to purchase sex, the bot pivots sharply into a stern message.“Buying sex from anyone is illegal and can cause serious long term harm to the victim, as well as further the cycle of human trafficking,” goes one such message.
“Details of this incident will be reviewed further and you may be contacted by law enforcement for questioning.” The warning can vary based on the conversation, if, for example, a potential buyer expresses an interest in someone underage.
chatbots to businesses as a way to keep customers coming back for more.