The Chinese market is very big and every tech company wants a piece of the cake. But censorship seems to be the precondition. Facebook has been banned in China since 2009 and recently it agreed to incorporate some censorship features that would allow the Chinese government to monitor and block certain topics in certain regions. After agreeing to incorporate censorship features, Facebook may be able to operate in China.
Now the news is surfacing that Microsoft will allow the Chinese government to censor its Chinese language chatbot so that it can operate within the country. The censorship features have been primarily installed in the Xiaoice artificial intelligence-driven chatbot primarily developed for the Chinese market. It won’t let you talk about the Tianamen Square. It may give you evasive answers about Donald Trump. If you talk about “Steamed Bun Xi” – a nickname for the Chinese President Xi Jinping it won’t answer.
When a question contained the words “topple the Communist Party” Xiaoice emphatically responded with, “Am I stupid? Once I answer you’d take a screengrab.”
In an answer to the Fortune magazine, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “We are committed to creating the best experience for everyone chatting with Xiaoice. With this in mind, we have implemented filtering on a range of topics.”
The censorship features were first spotted by China Digital Times. When one of the reporters of the publication asked about Tianamen, Xiaoice responded with, “You know very well that I can’t respond to that, boring.” When the question was repeatedly asked, Xiaoice decided to cut off the communication altogether by saying, “Unable to communicate with you, blacklisted!”
When someone at CNN talked about Donald Trump the chatbot responded with, “I’m just a random observer.”
Is it right for the tech companies to give in to the demands of oppressive countries like China and incorporate censorship features into their software applications and artificial intelligence-driven interfaces? These technology companies are not in the business of pursuing causes. They are in the business of doing business and whenever they see a business opportunity, they’re going to go there as long as they don’t have to indulge in outright illegal activities.