Eating Disorder Nonprofit Banishes ‘Harmful Advice’ Chatbots • The Register

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The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has removed Tessa chatbot for giving people bad advice.

Sharon Maxwell said in a now-controversial post that Tessa’s advice for safely recovering from an eating disorder runs counter to medical guidance. The American non-profit bot recommended Maxwell to count calories, weigh himself weekly, and even suggest where to buy skin calipers to measure body fat.

In reality, safe recovery is a multi-step process involving reflection, compassion, and acceptance. psychotherapy. A treatment plan prepared by a doctor. Trigger removal. Little or no focus on weight and appearance. and continuous efforts to avoid recurrence. Counting calories or measuring body fat would seem the exact opposite of all or most of it.

“Everything Tessa suggested led to the development of my eating disorder,” Maxwell, who calls himself an obesity activist and weight inclusion consultant, said on Instagram. “This robot does harm.”

NEDA confirmed that it was shutting down Tessa and investigating the software’s output. In a statement Tuesday, the organization said, “Last night, it was discovered that the current version of her Tessa chatbot, running the Body Positive program, may have provided harmful and unrelated information. did,” he said.

Replace fleshy troublemakers?

Reconsidering the questionable automated advice, NEDA interim CEO Elizabeth Thompson reportedly decided to replace the association’s human-run helpline with a chatbot starting June 1. It was done just as it was.

This isn’t really about chatbots.This is about union busting, plain and simple

As an employee of NEDA, Abby Harper helped launch Helpline Associates United (HAU), a union representing the staff of nonprofits, but closed the helpline, threw out humans, He argued that the decision to replace it with software was retaliation for unionization.

“NEDA claims this is a long-anticipated change and that AI can better serve people with eating disorders. But don’t be fooled, this is actually about chatbots. No, it’s about plain and simple union busting,” she insisted.

Harper said he and three other colleagues were fired from the union four days after forming it in March. They were understood to have been told their roles would not be eliminated until June, when the decades-old helpline closed. HAU has been trying to negotiate with NEDA for months, but negotiations have not worked out, she said.

Last year, the group petitioned for better working conditions to persuade the association to voluntarily recognize the group, but did not ask for a raise. HAU, which is affiliated with the Telecommunications Workers Union of America, is currently filing a complaint with the US workplace watchdog, the NLRB, alleging unfair labor practices.

“We will continue to fight. I can think of many examples of how technology benefits us in our work on helplines, but we are not going to force bosses to use chatbots to eliminate unions and employment.” No. It comes from empathy and understanding, and it comes only from people,” Harper said.

But Mr Thompson said: register The claim that NEDA would replace its helpline service with a chatbot was false. He said the helpline was simply closed for “business reasons” rather than being replaced by a software-based service or as a result of union activity. Thompson argued that Tessa is another project that could be restarted after the debacle.

“There’s been a bit of confusion, starting with mixed reports about whether Tessa is replacing our helpline or Tessa was going to replace our helpline,” the interim chief executive told us. Told.

“That is not true at all. Chatbots, even very intuitive programs, cannot replace human interaction. process for three years.

“We see Tessa, the program we have been running on our website since February 2022, as a completely different program and option. What will happen?”


Note that NPR aired a radio program last week containing recordings obtained from a virtual meeting at the end of March at which NEDA helpline staff were laid off.

You can hear NEDA President Jeff Craddock telling employees: “We will, in accordance with our terms of liability, [begin] We are planning to reduce the helpline currently in operation and transition to the AI-assisted technology “Tessa” scheduled around June 1st. ”

In our eyes, it looks like NEDA laid off its employees and helpline and left Tessa, which soft-launched a year ago. Now was Tessa’s time to shine, and in the hands of the masses it exploded. The nonprofit suggested to staff in March that the software could replace them, but now insists the program is merely an alternative source of information that cannot replace humans. .

NEDA has previously said it would shift to AI-assisted technology because the responsibility of running a helpline is too heavy as more people struggle with suicidal thoughts and medical crises, and use of the service has surged since the pandemic. said that As a result, the helpline was closed this week.

Thompson described Tessa as an “algorithmic program” and not a “sophisticated AI system” like ChatGPT.

The chatbot was designed to tackle the problem of negative body image and started as a NEDA-funded research project in 2018. It was developed and hosted by X2AI, a company that builds and deploys mental health chatbots. An eating disorder expert is said to have contributed to the creation of the bot.

That language goes against our policy and core beliefs as an eating disorder organization.

“Tessa underwent rigorous testing over several years.In 2021, a research paper called ‘The Effectiveness of Chatbots in Preventing Eating Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial’ was published. We had 10,000 participants and the system proved to be useful.” NEDA would not have been able to quietly launch Tessa without this back-end research,” Thompson said.

The chief executive admitted her association was concerned about Tessa’s advice on weight loss and calorie restriction and was investigating the matter further.

“That language goes against our policies and core beliefs as an eating disorder organization,” she told us. That said, NEDA hasn’t given up on chatbots entirely, and plans to bring Tessa back online in the future.

“We will continue to work on bugs and not re-release until everything is resolved. When we release, we will also highlight what Tessa is, what it is not, and how to maximize the user experience.” she confirmed.

register has reached out to Maxwell and Harper for further comment. ®

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