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Online chatbots such as ChatGPT will be regulated under new internet legislation, the Government has confirmed.

Lord Parkinson, a junior minister in the department for culture, media and sport, said artificial intelligence bots would be covered by the Online Safety Bill, which is currently going through parliament.

Both search results generated by chatbots and content posted on social media by them will be covered by the new laws, which are designed to prevent tech companies showing harmful content, particularly to children.

Including bots in the laws’ scope will mean that technology companies could be punished when the systems promote self-harm or eating disorder content to children.

ChatGPT, built by the Silicon Valley company OpenAI, has exploded in use since its release in November. Microsoft has started to integrate OpenAI’s technology into its search engine Bing, while Google has promised a competitor bot named Bard.

However, concerns about their output have grown. Many early testers of Microsoft’s Bing chatbot found that it would produce bizarre answers, including threatening language and incorrect results. ChatGPT has been accused of having a Left-wing bias after refusing to create text praising certain US Republicans, but readily doing so for Democrats.

In answer to a parliamentary question from Labour peer Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Parkinson said: “The Online Safety Bill has been designed to be technology-neutral to future-proof it and to ensure that the legislation keeps pace with emerging technologies. 

“Content generated by artificial intelligence ‘bots’ is in scope of the Bill, where it interacts with user-generated content, such as on Twitter. Search services using AI-powered features will also be in scope of the search duties outlined in the Bill.”

ChatGPT and other so-called large language models are able to generate uncannily human-sounding answers, as well as authoring essays and poems on dozens of subjects.

Their rise has led several schools and universities to ban students from using it as a writing aid. Analysts have estimated that ChatGPT already has more than 100m users, and the use of the technology is likely to expand further as Google and Microsoft integrate it into their search engines.

The Online Safety Bill requires websites such as social networks and search engines to protect users from harmful content. They will have to prevent children from finding “legal but harmful” material such as that related to abuse, harassment or self-harm, and give adults controls to screen it out.

Companies face heavy fines or, in extreme cases, executives could be jailed if Ofcom, which will enforce the laws, finds them to have repeatedly breached them.

Last week, Microsoft introduced new limits on its Bing chatbot after finding that long conversations could lead the service to produce emotional or aggressive-seeming responses.


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