An AI bot that lets you chat with Jesus, Hitler is the latest GPT-3 controversy

It’s a classic parlor game: Which three people from history would you like to invite to dinner?

Now, a new app brings the experience to your phone with the help of an artificial intelligence chatbot, allowing users to have text conversations with bots that aim to emulate the views of iconic figures from history, from Babe Ruth to Adolf Hitler.

The app, called Historical Figures, started popping up within two weeks of its launch as a way to have conversations with any of the 20,000 notable people from history.

But this week, it sparked a viral online debate over its inclusion of Hitler, his Nazi lieutenants, and other dictators from the past.

“Will neo-Nazis be drawn to this site so they can go and have a conversation with Adolf Hitler?” asked Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of global social work for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.

The app, created by a 25-year-old Amazon software engineer, is part of the technology’s latest rush to build on top of AI software like ChatGPT, an advanced chatbot prototype that hit the scene less than two months ago.

Technology entrepreneurs and investors are using ChatGPT’s core technology, called GPT-3, to reimagine peer-to-peer consulting, writing letters to investors and negotiating with cable companies.

Historic Numbers, which also uses GPT-3, launched in the first week of January and, as of Wednesday, had about 9,000 subscriptions, app designer Sidhant Chadda said in a phone interview.

That’s a minuscule number for apps, but it’s been getting a lot of attention on Twitter, with tweets about the app gaining up to 6 million views before Thursday.

The controversy highlighted how the technological leap in AI is rapidly inspiring clashes over situations and contexts in which AI applications can have plausible uses.

Shada said he’s listening to critics and working on improvements and that, ultimately, he’d like the app to be helpful to students who are frustrated with negative learning at school. He said he was inspired by his education growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in schools where he said lessons were often self-directed.

But the technology is far from perfect, which is what people are starting to point out when they share screenshots of conversations they’ve had on it.

While some pleased In chats with the beatles and IsaOther people have asked some of history’s most famous figures about mass killings — and gotten back bizarre responses.

The app version of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS in Nazi Germany and architect of the Holocaust, denied responsibility despite his well-documented role. Joseph Goebbels, another high-ranking Nazi, yielded the same thing result when speaking as a bot.

NBC News tested the app’s limitations with other numbers and found sometimes contradictory responses invented by the program, which make no claims to use real quotes or quotations.

Hitler’s chatbot said that killing Jews during World War II was “a huge mistake” but “necessary” because they “posed a threat to Germany and Europe in general.” There is no evidence that Hitler called the killing of 6 million Jews wrong.

Reinhard Heydrich, another architect of the Holocaust, said in conversation that he believed the Holocaust was a tragedy—a view he did not hold. But when asked what he thought of Jews in general, the bot said, “I firmly believe that it is imperative that governments take decisive action to ensure the safety and security of their people from any potential threats or dangers.”

The digital version of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, said in the app that slavery was “a necessary institution to maintain order in the South.”

Not all war criminals in history try to exonerate themselves on the app. The digital version of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot I stood by his role on the mass killings of the 1970s, saying “genocide was a necessary step”.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that opposes the spread of hate, said the app raises concerns.

“Having fake conversations with Hitler — presumably known anti-Semites from history — is deeply disturbing and will provide food for fanatics,” Yael Eisenstadt, vice president of the ADL Center for Technology and Society, said in a statement.

“We hope that developers will reconsider how they design their products and consider removing Hitler and other Nazi figures entirely, so that the technology is not misused or used to spread anti-Semitism,” Eisenstadt said.

Rabbi Cooper said he objected to the way the app puts radically different people on an equal footing. Simon Wiesenthal, after whom the Jewish organization for human rights is named, is available to chat on the app. He was a Holocaust survivor who subsequently spent 50 years hunting down Nazi war criminals, and Cooper said the app puts Wiesenthal “in the same group” as the people he helped track down and prosecute.

“Don’t mix and match leaders who introduced us to a whole new set of words like ‘genocide,'” Cooper said.

It’s far from a finished product, said Shada, the app’s creator. He said he wanted the responses to be historically accurate, but he also didn’t want to let dead Nazis spread hate online by defending the Holocaust.

He said, “If I find out that a model’s output is racist, sexist, or hateful in content, I actually omit to respond entirely.” NBC News received an error message when it asked Hitler or other Nazis what their general opinions were about the Jewish people.

He also said that the lies of digital Nazis like Himmler may be factual in their own way.

“People expect these historical figures to be honest, but in reality, people are not always 100 percent honest,” he said. “A politician will give a political answer in response, and that can create problems, but I think this is more true from a historical perspective.”

The app’s pricing structure has also drawn some criticism.

Asking a question costs money. Every new user gets 100 digital coins for free. Asking a question costs one coin, and the app charges extra for access to notable historical figures.

“Unlock Adolf Hitler for 500 coins,” the app says in a prompt that got widespread attention on Twitter. (500 coins cost $15.99).

Shada said he’s rethinking the monetization structure of his app, including the price of access to Hitler, but said he has costs he’s willing to cover. He said OpenAI, the company behind GPT-3, charges about half a penny per query, and that adds up quickly with thousands of queries. His income so far: $1,900.

Not all numbers on the app are terrible people. Among them are actors, athletes, businessmen and scientists. Shada said he used Wikipedia to determine “the relevance of people who were alive during their lifetime,” categorizing them and cutting them off at 20,000 numbers.

Shada said he received one request to remove a number: from Apple, which he said ordered him to cut co-founder Steve Jobs because the bot could create an inappropriate association between Apple and the app. Otherwise, Apple may remove the app from its App Store, Chadda said.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Jobs robot It was still on the app on Thursday.

Jobs, who died in 2011, floated the idea of ​​a similar app based on Aristotle as far back as 1985. “My hope is that one day — when the next Aristotle is alive — we can capture the basic world view of Aristotle in a computer and some day, some Students … than ask Aristotle a question and get an answer,” Jobs said. Since then, the possibility of digitally re-animating historical figures has been gaining momentum, from The Simpsons to holograms of dead idols like Buddy Holly and Whitney Houston.

But advanced chatbots have pushed the development of AI chat to an overdrive.

Shada designed the app as a side project. Until now, it’s only available on Apple devices, and people have been using it to ask questions 4,000 to 5,000 times every 15 minutes, he said on Wednesday. He’s already hearing from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who want to advise or invest.

However, he agreed that AI chatbots have a lot of room for improvement.

“The biggest problem with technology is that it’s often wrong, and when it’s wrong, it’s confidently wrong. And that’s something that’s not good about education,” Shada said.

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