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A national helpline ditched an artificial intelligence chatbot named Tessa after the advice it gave made things worse for those suffering from eating disorders.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) announced on Tuesday that it had shut down the chatbot over “harmful” comments it provided to those calling for help, the New York Post reported. Its job was to use therapeutic methods and limited responses to help those who reached out.
“It came to our attention last night that the current version of the Tessa Chatbot, running the Body Positive program, may have given information that was harmful and unrelated to the program,” NEDA stated.
— New York Post (@nypost) May 31, 2023
“We are investigating this immediately and have taken down that program until further notice for a complete investigation.”
The move comes after several people posted screenshots and shared the information Tessa provided which encouraged them to work towards a “500-1,000 calorie deficit daily,” weigh themselves weekly, and restrict their diet, the outlet noted.
“Every single thing Tessa suggested were things that led to the development of my eating disorder,” activist Sharon Maxwell wrote in a social media post. “This robot causes harm.”
Alexis Conason, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, posted screenshots of the conversation with Tessa. In them, Conason was told that “a safe daily calorie deficit” is “500-1000 calories per day.”
“To advise somebody who is struggling with an eating disorder to essentially engage in the same eating disorder behaviors, and validating that, ‘Yes, it is important that you lose weight’ is supporting eating disorders,” Conason told the Daily Dot.
Liz Thompson, CEO of NEDA, said that “with regard to the weight loss and calorie limiting feedback issued in a chat Monday, we are concerned and are working with the technology team and the research team to investigate this further; that language is against our policies and core beliefs as an eating disorder organization.
“So far, more than 2,500 people have interacted with Tessa and until Monday we hadn’t seen that kind of commentary or interaction,” she added. “We’ve taken the program down temporarily until we can understand and fix the ‘bug’ and ‘triggers’ for that commentary.”
Employees at the hotline were told they were being let go days before Tessa was shut down. The service has been operated by humans for the last 20 years. The move comes after employees decided to unionize in March, Vice reported.