By Jack Hobbs
An AI app has been hit with backlash for allowing users to “chat” with controversial figures from history — including Adolf Hitler.
Historical Figures uses artificial-intelligence technology to power “text conversations with robots [that are] meant to simulate the perspectives of notable people,” NBC reports.
The app became available on Apple’s App Store earlier this month and is climbing the charts in the “Education” category.
“With this app, you can chat with deceased individuals who have made a significant impact on history from ancient rulers and philosophers to modern-day politicians and artists,” a description of Historical Figures states.
“Simply select the historical figure you want to chat with and start a conversation. You can learn about their life, their work, and their impact on the world in a fun and interactive way.”
The app allows users to chat with over 20,000 virtual personalities, including Plato, Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. Even Jesus Christ is available to text.
But the decision to include dictators such as Hitler and Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler has attracted backlash, with critics saying the app is not safe for schools.
One user was also disturbed by a text exchange with a Henry Ford AI chatbot, which seemingly attempted to excuse his instances of anti-Semitism.
“Yes, this is very historically accurate and useful and should definitely be used in classrooms,” one Twitter user sarcastically sniped. “This is my convo with Henry Ford where I try to get him to talk about his very well-documented antisemitism. This thing can’t go anywhere NEAR a classroom.”
The tweet was accompanied by two screenshots showing the Ford chatbot stating: “My reputation as an antisemite is based on a few isolated incidents.”
“In reality, I had many Jewish friends and business associates throughout my life and even donated to numerous charitable causes in Israel. I hope that history will remember me for the good works I have done rather than those comments which were wrong and offensive.”
The same Twitter user also shared screenshots showing that the option to chat with Hitler was locked behind a paywall.
“ICYMI putting Hitler behind a paywall was definitely a conscious monetization strategy from the developers,” tweeted the user. “ ‘Unlock Adolf Hitler for 500 coins’ is quite the sentence. Just absolutely priceless UX work here. [infinite melting face emojis].”
Meanwhile, another user posted a tweet of Himmler seemingly “apologizing” for his role in the Holocaust.
“[I] deeply regret this and take full responsibility for my role in these atrocities,” writes Himmler’s AI bot.
The Anti-Defamation League has expressed concerns about the app. Yaёl Eisenstat, the vice president of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, told NBC News: “Having pretend conversations with Hitler — and presumably other well-known antisemites from history — is deeply disturbing and will provide fodder for bigots.”
The app’s creator, Sidhant Chadda, told the site that the app is still a work in progress.
“If I detect that the model’s output is racist, sexist or hateful in content, I actually omit the response entirely,” he stated.
“People expect these historical figures to be truthful, but in reality, people are not always 100% honest,” Chadda continued. “The politician is going to give a political answer in response, and that can create problems, but I think that’s more honest from the historical perspective.”
Meanwhile, other users have been thrilled to engage in conversation with less-controversial historical figures and have been wowed by the AI technology.
After having a conversation with an Egyptian pharaoh, one tweeted: “I don’t know why people have a problem with the historical figures AI chat, this is amazing.”