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The National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 5,000 reports of sex trafficking in 2016, but most cases are believed to go unreported.Project Intercept’s lead partner, Seattle Against Slavery, is working with counterparts in 21 other U. cities, including Boston and Houston, to deploy the bot more widely.Microsoft itself stumbled with its Tay research chatbot that accidentally started talking dirty, but the sex-trade bot does not learn from people it talks to in the same way.Seattle Against Slavery is also distributing a second service developed by Project Intercept, called Victim Reachout.“NGOs had strategies that were pretty effective but no way to scale them.”The pair’s initiative first took shape when they entered the philanthropic category of Microsoft’s annual week-long hackathon in 2012.They used the company’s Azure cloud platform to build an improved version of Microsoft technology called Photo DNA that automatically detects and reports images of child exploitation.Roe-Sepowitz says that while education and deterrence make sense, it’s been hard to prove what tactics are most effective.When detectives in Phoenix used fake ads to surprise people looking to buy sex, nearly half of callers who were contacted by a cop later called another spoof ad.

The dating game requires enough guesswork without the added complication of a language barrier.So far, the chatbot has exchanged 14,000 messages with nearly 1,000 people who responded to the planted ads.In about half those cases it heard enough to deliver a warning message.“If law enforcement perform stings in a city they might get a few dozen people, but we know there have to be thousands and thousands of guys out there looking to buy sex,” says Robert Beiser, executive director of Seattle Against Slavery.“Wasting their time and delivering a deterrence message could change their perspective on what they’re doing.”Project Intercept was started in 2012 by two Microsoft employees after seeing a documentary about sex trafficking, .“I thought we should be able to use the things that we work with every day to help,” says Greg, a senior product manager at Microsoft, who asked not to disclose his last name to avoid recriminations from people involved in the sex trade.

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