“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.
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.
“It’s really accelerated our ability to reach people,” says Amanda Hightower, executive director of nonprofit Real Escape from the Sex Trade, or REST.
The new tools arrive as nonprofits and law enforcement devote more attention to stifling the demand that leads to sex trafficking.
“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 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.