ChatNannies Last All Summer Long

image This story has been growing in size for the past week, and now it seems definite. It's a hoax. It began with a story in New Scientist last week describing an artificial intelligence program designed by Jim Wightman, an IT consultant from Wolverhampton. This program, called ChatNannies, supposedly scours internet chat rooms pretending to be a child and luring pedophiles into conversation with it. Once it identifies a pedophile, it reports them to the authorities. Sounds great, but if it really does what is claimed of it, it would be the most advanced artificial intelligence software in the world. And created by a guy working out of his home, no less. Almost immediately, people were skeptical. has pretty thoroughly debunked Wightman's claims. There's also some interesting material over at where a guy describes his experience chatting online with a 'Nanniebot.' The Nanniebot really does seem eerily human, which is because it almost certainly is human... i.e. Wightman typing away at his keyboard.
I figure this whole thing falls into the hoax genre of 'Amazing Inventions that Can't Be Examined.' It's an old, old modus operandi of hoaxers. Come out with a miraculous new invention, but simultaneously refuse, for one reason or another, to let people inspect it. For examples, you can go all the way back to the Great Chess Automaton of the late 18th century, or Redheffer's Perpetual Motion Machine from the early 19th century. A reporter from the Guardian, Ben Goldacre, is trying to get Wightman to allow him to inspect the ChatNannies program. But so far, he's had no luck.
One unanswered question in all of this is: why did New Scientist ever believe Wightman's claims to begin with? If it weren't for New Scientist publishing the story, it would never have received a fraction of the attention that it already has.


Posted on Fri Mar 26, 2004


Respectable news media have (a) a weakness for emotional hot-button topics like paedophilia, (b) a lowered standard of skepticism when those buttons are being pushed, and (c) an intrinsic reluctance to admit they've been had.

IT reporters probably want to believe that something like ChatNannies could somehow exist, and they're definitely not expert enough in AI to spot how improbable the whole mess is. So they bite. And having bitten, they're hooked. "Sorry, we were idiots, nevermind the whole item" is not in the stylebook.
Posted by Anser  on  Fri Mar 26, 2004  at  11:02 PM
The chatnannies website works like a pyramid selling scam.

They recruit people as chatnannies to report on chatrooms, and promise to elevate some to the salaried status of supernannies if they send in enough reviews.

The chatnannies supply email addresses and evaluations on chatrooms. This is saleable data.
Posted by Sostenuto  on  Mon Mar 29, 2004  at  04:34 AM
Update. See New Scientist on Software agent targets chatroom paedophiles: "Serious doubts have been brought to our attention about this story. Consequently, we have removed it while we investigate its veracity".
Posted by Hmmm  on  Sat Apr 10, 2004  at  05:03 PM
I thought you might be interested in my meeting with Jim Wightman and
his "nanniebot". I went along to his house with a journalist from New
Scientist and another AI academic.

I've some transcripts of our conversations, and more details at:

The newscientist article (in lawer-speak) is at:

Posted by Andy Pryke  on  Thu Jun 17, 2004  at  07:41 AM
I particularly liked the power cut that conveniently manifested just as he could no longer evade showing you the database.
Posted by Hmmm  on  Sun Jun 20, 2004  at  02:35 PM
I read Andy P's interview with Jim (thanks Andy!)

Here's my FAVORITE part:
Q. "How many lines of code?"
A. "About 1 Million"

Now let's analyze this a bit, shall we?

Being a programmer myself, I thought that claiming to have written a million lines of code was just a tad bit too prolific, even for a proclaimed obsessive-compulsive. That's roughly 20 thousand pages of code! So I did a quick bit of research to get just a rough estimate of how much time it would take to produce something of such magnitude. For comparison, the entire Windows XP operating system is less than 40 million lines of code. My conservative estimate: approximately 250 man-years of work. Here's a link to the website I found this info on just in case you'd like to do your own calculations:

Pretty impressive for a guy working on this in his spare time, wouldn't you say? 😉
Posted by Doubting Thomas  on  Tue Oct 12, 2004  at  03:52 AM
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