Eating Disorder Helpline Takes Down Chatbot After It Promotes Disordered Eating

After firing its entire human staff and replacing them with a chatbot, Vice reports that an eating disorder helpline has already announced that it’s bringing its humans back. And yes, as it turns out, it’s because replacing a human-managed crisis helpline with an AI-powered chatbot went extremely, extremely poorly. Who could’ve thought? As NPR first reported last week, the nonprofit National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) — the largest eating disorder-focused nonprofit in the US, according to Vice’s initial report on the debacle — had decided to entirely disband its heavily-trafficked crisis helpline in favor of a human-less chatbot called Tessa, just four days after its human workers had unionized. Humans were supposed to stay online to field calls until June 1, when Tessa was scheduled to take over as NEDA’s only interactive resource. But that all changed when Sharon Maxwell, an activist, sounded the alarm that Tessa was offering wildly unhelpful — and even suggested what suggest behaviors associated with disordered eating. “Every single thing Tessa suggested were things that led to the development of my eating disorder,” Maxwell wrote in a viral social media thread, posted to Instagram on Monday. “This robot causes harm.” In her harrowing Instagram post, Maxwell recounted that Tessa urged her to lose up to two pounds a week, explaining that the activist should regularly weigh herself, restrict certain foods, and aim to cut her caloric intake by 500-1,000 calories per day. In other words, a chatbot entrusted with giving advice to people with eating…Eating Disorder Helpline Takes Down Chatbot After It Promotes Disordered Eating

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