Legend of Tay the Chatbot

The internet corrupts absolutely.

Aashi Dhaniya
2 min readMar 6, 2019

Exhibit A — meet Tay the chatbot. Released on March 23, 2016 (although her account says she’s been a member since December 2015), Tay is a chatterbot created by Microsoft which is designed to talk like an American teenage girl and to learn from none other than the magnanimous people of the internet on Twitter.

“Hellooooo world,” said Tay and embarked on her short and controversial Twitter journey.

“The more humans share with me the more I learn #WednesdayWisdom”

Nobody is thinking, what could go wrong with that? Not surprisingly, within hours the bot’s tweets devolved into hate speech and offensive content and forced Microsoft to take down Tay within 16 hours of its release.


-Tay, 2k16

They really mean it when they say “garbage in garbage out” in machine learning and there’s plenty of garbage available for consumption on the internet. Apparently, the bot was modeled after a similar project Microsoft ran in China which seemed to be doing just fine even after tens of millions of conversations.

Tay is less an indictment of Microsoft’s AI team and more a reflection of human behavior when not under any supervision (did no one read Lord of the flies? William Goulding would be proud).

As human species, we’re just not there yet to let innocent AI run out into the world unencumbered only to be corrupted at first contact with “civilization”.

The following week, Microsoft made a re-release of Tay but shut it down again after it glitched and tweeted the same thing over and over 200,000 times which came as an annoyance to everyone involved. As of 24 October 2018, Tay has a private Twitter account that users must request to follow to be able to interact with the AI. She still has more than 135,000 Twitter followers.

None of the problems that Microsoft ran into with Tay stopped them from improving their chatbot algorithms. Zo, the successor to Tay was released in December 2016. Zo shared a similar fate to Tay and was subsequently taken down on accounts of making inflammatory tweets.

On the one hand, Tay does have a personality which is an incredible feat of technology advancements in machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence, but on the other hand, getting machines and AI to do tasks is akin to walking on a minefield because they perfect what you ask them to perfect and they get there FAST. So fast that there’s no putting a leash on it once it’s let loose.

Chatbots are everywhere in 2018. They are much better in some ways, which is to say, they aren’t social faux pas, but they aren’t nearly as interesting as Tay.