Chinese local government apologises and blames artificial intelligence after insulting teacher on WeChat
Query about unequal pay had drawn mocking responses, provoking an internet backlash
A local government in eastern China has blamed an artificial intelligence program for insulting messages sent from its official WeChat platform to a teacher asking for help, according to a newspaper report.
The woman, identified only by the nickname “Xiao Lin” submitted a complaint about unequal pay to authorities in Guichi district, Anhui province, on Wednesday, China Youth Daily reported on Monday.
The replies she received read: “If you don’t speak, nobody will think you’re dumb” and “I keep hearing the sound of mosquitoes”.
Xiao Lin was outraged and posted screenshots of the conversation to social media, which swiftly went viral.
The following day, she received a phone call from a representative of the messaging service, who attributed the comments to a “system error” and asked her to help them “clear up” the matter, according to a report published on Saturday by Xinan Evening News.
“My colleagues and I still didn’t understand,” Xiao Lin was quoted as saying. “This didn’t sound like an automatic reply.
“They represent the official channel of the Guichi government. How can they do this?”
A local government official surnamed Zhu told the newspaper that the platform was operated by a third party.
On Saturday evening, the Guichi government issued an apology and explanation on its official Weibo account, and said the statement had been issued not by a person but by SimSimi, an artificial intelligence conversation program.
The statement drew hundreds of comments, with the top-rated one noting that the government had responded to the technical issue but completely ignored the teacher’s original complaint.
Another highly rated post read: “This ‘mud horse’ government even hires a water army.”
“Grass mud horse” is a popular phrase used online to indicate defiance of government censorship, because of its similarity to a vulgar phrase. “Water army” refers to astroturfing, or paying propagandists to make social media comments for the government.
SimSimi, which learns its responses from user input, has a reputation for generating profane remarks, and has caused political scandal in the past. Last year, anti-bullying groups called for it to be banned for producing abusive content.
The program was banned in Thailand in 2012 after insulting prominent politicians.