Historical Figures Chat 'monetises Holocaust'

Occurred: January 2023

Historical Figures, a freemium iPhone app that lets people speak to famous figures from the past, sparked controversy by allowing 'conversations' with some of history's most infamous figures.

Developed by 25-year old Amazon software engineer Sidhant Chadda using OpenAI's GPT-3 large language model as a foundation, the app allows users to chat with over 20,000 virtual personalities, including Jesus Christ, Plato, Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin.

Getting the facts wrong

The app produces inaccurate and contradictory results. Former FBI director J Edgar Hoover says his mother died when he was nine years-old (she lived until she was 78). Serial child rapist Jimmy Savile denies ever abusing anyone. 

Virulent anti-Semite Henry Ford claims he 'does not hate Jewish people'. And infamous former Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels claims he 'did not hate Jews'. Goebbels was a key architect of the Final Solution.

Monetising hatred

In addition to Goebbels, Historical Figures also lets people talk to infamous Nazis Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebels, Heinrich Himmler, amongst other dictators and autocrats.

But, unlike the great majority of figures on the app, it is only possible to 'talk' to Hitler et al behind a paywall, by 'unlocking them for '500 coins', sparking controversy about Chaddha's perceived monetisation of the Holocaust and hatred.

Educational value

The app has sparked a furore about its value as an educational tool. According to Chaddha, Historical Figures is 'extremely valuable to teachers and students'. 

However, historians have slammed it. One called it 'vile' and another beseeched Apple to 'remove this trash from the App Store'. Another expert said it shouldn't 'go anywhere near a classroom'. 

Operator: Sidhant Chaddha; Apple
Developer: Sidhant Chaddha
Country: USA
Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts
Purpose: Talk to historical figures
Technology: Chatbot; NLP/text analysis; Deep learning; Machine learning
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Mis/disinformation; Safety
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: January 2023