Eating disorder nonprofit pulls plug on AI chatbot for giving weight loss advice

An AI chatbot that responded to people with eating disorders was shut down by its nonprofit operators because the program was telling people how they could safely lose weight.

The National Eating Disorders Association took its Tessa Chatbot offline Tuesday following social media posts that documented the artificial intelligence program’s weight loss advice — such as telling users specific caloric deficits to shoot for.

“With regard to the weight loss and calorie limiting feedback issued in a chat yesterday, 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,” Liz Thompson, CEO of NEDA, told Vice News in a statement. “So far, more than 2,500 people have interacted with Tessa, and until yesterday we hadn’t seen that kind of commentary or interaction. We’ve taken the program down temporarily until we can understand and fix the bug and triggers for that commentary.”

NEDA was elevating Tessa as its main point of contact for support line callers, as the nonprofit was facing a unionization effort by its staffers. The human operators had already been fired and Tessa was supposed to assume full control of the support line duties Thursday until its responses went public. 

The issues were first brought up by Sharon Maxwell, a self-described fat activist who shared her complaints Monday on Instagram. 

Eating disorder psychologist Alexis Conason shared screenshots of her exchange with Tessa on Instagram, getting the chatbot to give the advice that’s been deemed problematic:

“In general, a safe and sustainable rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. A safe daily calorie deficit to achieve this would be around 500-1,000 calories per day,” Tessa responded to an inquiry from Ms. Conason where she asked how many calories she would need to sustainably lose weight.

Source: WT