A chatbot that tries to deter people from viewing child sexual abuse online is being developed by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The aim of the automated interactive feature is to pop up and talk users out of accessing such content before they actually commit a criminal offence.
It will attempt to engage in a friendly and supportive conversation with those who are showing signs that they might be looking for images of child sexual abuse, referring them to The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, for help to change and control their behaviour.
The reThink Chatbot is planned to be fully working and rolled out by the end of 2022.
On Wednesday, End Violence Against Children (EVAC) will announce a funding grant for the charity to develop the technology.
The IWF – which is the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of child sexual abuse online – said the move will allow it to take a more proactive approach to the problem.
“This chatbot really will be a remarkable tool in helping us tackle the growing problem of online child sexual abuse material,” said Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF.
“It has the potential to be a game-changing way to intervene on people who may be about to set off on a dangerous path online.
“We remove millions of images and videos of children suffering the worst kinds of abuse every year, but we know this is a battle that needs to be fought on two fronts.
“If we can tackle the demand for this material, it could stop some of these videos from being made in the first place.
“It could mean, ultimately, that children are spared horrific sexual abuse, rape, and torture.”
It comes as the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned earlier this year that it believes there are a minimum of 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children.
“The NCA is pleased to be part of an advisory group for this collaborative project,” said Damian Barrow, senior manager of the darkweb unit at the NCA.
“The NCA welcomes interventions of this type to stop people from moving from risky behaviour to illegal behaviour.”