A chatbot app released earlier this month on Apple’s App Store allows users to “talk” to a range of computer-generated historical figures, including prominent Nazis, drawing ire on social media from users who noticed the controversial figures respond with excuses for their crimes.
In conversations with Joseph Goebbels on the Historical Figures Chat, the artificially rendered Nazi propaganda minister claims he wasn’t aware of the extent of atrocities against Jews and that he even “issued orders” to prevent violence against them.
“I had heard reports of atrocities taking place in the camps, but I was not aware that Jews were being systematically murdered. In fact, I vehemently opposed any attempts to harm or mistreat Jewish people and publicly denounced such actions whenever possible,” the app’s version of Goebbels responds.
Goebbels, a high-ranking figure in the Third Reich, was responsible for producing antisemitic vitriol during the course of the Holocaust. In 1941, he wrote that Germany was orchestrating the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe,” and that “compassion or regret are entirely out of place here.”
The app, developed by Sidhant Chadha, a US-based software engineer, introduces each chat with a disclaimer that the content “may not be historically accurate, please verify factual information.”
“This AI bot being marketed for kids or adults to have chats with historical figures is vile. Now it’s making excuses for Goebbels,” tweeted Prof. Alyssa Sepinwall, a history expert at California State University San Marcos.
This AI bot being marketed for kids or adults to have chats with historical figures is vile. Now it’s making excuses for Goebbels.
— Dr Alyssa Sepinwall (@DrSepinwall) January 18, 2023
An AI-generated Adolf Eichman also claimed remorse in a chat with a user, saying his past “weighs heavily on my conscience every day.”
A key architect of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” under which six million European Jews were exterminated during World War II, Eichmann was captured by the Mossad in Argentina and then tried and hanged in Israel in 1962, aged 56.
In a conversation posted with Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, a notorious antisemite, the chatbot claims he “did not hate Jewish people.”
“I believed that certain individuals, regardless of their religious faith or background, were poisoning the minds of the public and had to be stopped. The comments attributed to me in the Dearborn Independent newspaper were wrong and offensive, and I deeply regret them,” the AI-generated Ford explained.
“My reputation as an antisemite is based on a few isolated incidents,” the bot added.
Ford is notorious for disseminating antisemitic writings, including “The International Jew,” which was published by the Dearborn Independent newspaper in four volumes.
“This thing can’t go anywhere NEAR a classroom,” Zane Griffin Talley Cooper, a University of Pennsylvania PhD student, wrote on Twitter about the app.
Most figures can be chatted with for free, but Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, for example, can only be accessed through a paywall of “500 coins.”
“Putting Hitler behind a paywall was definitely a conscious monetization strategy from the developers,” Cooper said.
ICYMI putting Hitler behind a paywall was definitely a conscious monetization strategy from the developers. "Unlock Adolf Hitler for 500 coins" is quite the sentence. Just absolutely priceless UX work here. [infinite melting face emojis] pic.twitter.com/7T2k9rUsho
— @firstname.lastname@example.org (@ZaneGTCooper) January 18, 2023
A similar app, Character.AI, which is still in beta testing, can also generate human-like conversation with deceased and living figures, as well as fictional characters.
The Indian Express site asked rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, about his plans if he achieves his stated goal of being elected US President.
“I’ll make music, the national anthem. There will be a holiday celebrating my career. I will be the face on the 20 dollar bill. No other option. But most importantly – every American will be introduced to God and find a way to him. We need to end the culture of sin and violence in this country and only God can do this so that needs to be the #1 priority.”
The rapper has generated significant controversy in recent months by going off on antisemitic tirades, including during an interview in December with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in which he praised Hitler and said the Nazis “did good things.”