Volunteers from Microsoft have joined with a group fighting against sex-trafficking to help find purveyors and participants in sex-trafficking.

The volunteers teamed with Seattle Against Slavery and created a chat bot, a computer program that would respond to people online. The bots were programmed to simulate someone selling sex; once the buyer was interested, the bot would sent a message of deterrence. Once certain points of the conversation are encountered, a deterrence message is sent to the buyer.

Robert Beiser with Seattle Against Slavery told KIRO Radio:

We know that law enforcement has been doing stings for awhile, where they impersonate a trafficking victim in an ad online. The challenge is you can only have so many law enforcement officers spending their time on that type of crime, but you have tens of thousands of people, even just here in the Seattle area, who are buying sex from trafficking victims.

Beiser explained:

The deterrence message depends a bit on the persona of the bot … for example if the bot has revealed that they are 15-years-old and says, “Does that sound good for you even though I am younger?” And the buyer says, “Yes, that sounds good. Let’s set up an appointment.” Then the deterrence message focuses on if you are arrested for this you could be a registered sex offender, buying sex from a minor is a felony and could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in court costs and legal fees. And if you need help … we have resources we can provide to them.

He added:

There are two pieces that work in our favor. One is that we have incredible cutting edge volunteers who have worked on this. They are using Microsoft bot framework … that allow us to recognize a lot of things that most chat bots that you see probably are going to mess up on. The second thing is something we actually discovered during the prototyping process itself. The guys who are attempting to buy sex seem to get a lot dumber during the process of buying sex from a trafficking victim. The little blips here and there, they just push right past them and don’t seem to notice … even to the point where we will send them a deterrence message, they will understand they are not talking to a real person, and then they’ll continue trying to make an appointment.”

The program also seeks victims; Beiser said 40 people have gotten out of a life of prostitution and trafficking by using the technology.

Police estimate as many as 500 teens, some as young as 12 years old, work as sex slaves every day in King County.