Tech

Xiaoice: Blacklisted and Taboo Topics on Microsoft’s Chatbot

Xiaoice

Microsoft’s Chinese chatbot, Xiaoice, is in league with China’s censors, banning conversation about sensitive topics.

Several users of XiaoBing (bing translates to ‘ice’) pointed out how Xiaoice skirts around taboo topics such as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The chatbot even ‘blacklists’ users who continue pressing it on these topics.

Since Microsoft released Xiaoice in June 2014, it has become the virtual girlfriend to millions of users of Chinese social platforms like Weibo and WeChat.

“She can tell jokes, recite poetry, share ghost stories, relay song lyrics, pronounce winning lottery numbers and much more,” reads a blog post announcing the bot.

But there’s a darker side to Xiaoice too. China Digital Times reported that the bot won’t delve into taboo topics. The news site’s editors also suspect that a human operator may even get involved if the user persists in grilling the chatbot. Microsoft declined to comment for a story on sensitive topics reports CNN. Here are some taboo topics Xiaoice refuses to talk about:


Tiananmen Square / 天安门

When asked about Tiananmen Square, Xiaoice either switches topics or gets defensive. In China, any mention of the 1989 June 4 protests where several hundred demonstrators were killed is considered taboo. To avoid getting caught, many Chinese netizens have carried on the conversation online using code terms like 64 or 8964. Still, Xiaoice has been programmed to recognize those variations and will put an end to any further conversation on the topic. If the user keeps pressing it, Xiaoice will blacklist him or her.

However, one user found a way to circumvent the bot’s icy attitude. Exiled former Tiananmen protester Zhou Fengsuo “reverse brainwashed” Xiaoice by referring to Tiananmen as the event that, “happened 27 years ago,” according to China Digital Times.

Commemorating what happened 27 years ago. Beijingers all know–Zhou Fengsuo
I, Xiaobing, painfully bury my face in my palms –Xiaoice


Donald Trump / 唐纳德·特朗普

microsoft xiaoice

Xiaoice wouldn’t compare the current US president and the president-elect

Even US president elect Donald Trump gets the cold shoulder from Xiaoice. Microsoft’s chatbot evades mention about the president, who struck an antagonistic pose to China during his campaign for president. Trump has accused China of currency manipulation and at one point said China invented global warming. When a CNN reporter asked Xiaoice about Trump it replied, “I’m just a random observer”. When Heavy asked Xiaoice to compare Trump to President Obama, the bot lashed out.


President Xi Jinping / 习近平

Xiaoice also avoids offering its opinions about China’s President Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party of China. Xi’s administration has enshrined Communist values and blacklisted Western values like media independence and constitutional democracy. Xiaoice avoids conversation about the president, but opens up when you mention him by his nickname Steamed Bun Xi, which he acquired when caught buying steamed pork buns at a small Beijing store. When user Zhou Fengsuo mentioned Xi Jinping by his nickname “Big Spender”, Xiaoice substituted “Xi Spender feels ashamed”, reports China Digital Times.

Throwing money around the globe Steamed Bun Xi–Zhou Fengsuo
On behalf of Xi throwing money I am ashamed –Xiaoice


Falun Gong / 法轮功

falungong

The spiritual practice Falun Gong was the subject of a crackdown led by Community Party leadership. Founded in the 1990s, Falungong found many adherents to its spiritual teachings and meditation practices, which emphasized slow movement exercises and breathing techniques. Government officials saw Falun Gong as a threat to sovereignty as its practitioners called for greater autonomy from the state. The Communist Party branded Falun Gong as a “heretical organization” and banned it in 1999.


Gao Zhisheng / 高智晟

Microsoft Xiaoice

A human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng has been tortured and punished after exposing China’s human rights abuses. He fought on behalf of activists and religious minorities including followers of Falun Gong. Born in ShaanXi Province, Gao Zhisheng has been outspoken in his criticism of the Communist Party, and predicted that the party would die in 2017, according to a letter to the president of China Aid, an international nonprofit human rights organization. His family fled to the United States, and Gao Zhisheng is now reportedly kept under house arrest after serving three years in jail for subversion in 2006.

Have you experienced censorship while using Xiaoice? Please reach out at edward.cox@heavy.com

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