Army won't answer Freedom of Information Request on its SGT STAR AI chatbot

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Seven years ago, the U.S. Army launched the SGT STAR program, which uses a virtual recruiter (an AI chatbot) to talk to potential soldiers. We put in a FOIA request for a bunch of documents related to the program, including current and historical input/output scripts. So far, the Army Research and Marketing Group--which is supposed to help with transparency--hasn't responded."

We contacted programmer Bruce Wilcox, two-time winner of the Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence (a.k.a. “The First Turing Test”) for advice on what to ask for in a FOIA request.  Wilcox suggested we seek Sgt. Star’s input patterns (all the phrases and keywords Sgt. Star is pre-programmed to recognize) and the scripted output answers (all the possible things Sgt. Star could say). In our FOIA letter, we requested these files as they existed for each year between 2007 and 2013, so we could compare how Sgt. Star’s answers evolved to reflect developments in global conflicts, changes to military benefit packages, and new policies, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

To cover our bases, we widened the FOIA request to include all contracts regarding Sgt. Star, all annual and quarterly reports that reference Sgt. Star, any audits, and any privacy policies associated with the program. We also asked for whatever analytical data might be available, such as the number of conversations Sgt. Star has had, the duration of those conversations, the general geolocation of the users (broadly), the number of conversations that resulted in direct communication with a human recruiter and any estimate of manpower saved by using the AI.

Once we crafted the request, the next challenge was to determine which agency was responsible for Sgt. Star. With the disestablishment of the Accession Command in September 2012, it was unclear which division had inherited Sgt. Star.  We started with the public affairs office of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) in Fort Knox, KY. From there, our request bounced to the Army Marketing and Research Group, a new division created in October 2012. A representative initially said they would follow-up in a week and get us whatever they could. That was last November and we have yet to receive any further response, despite a follow-up letter we filed shortly after the Army missed the 20-day FOIA response deadline. We even sent the Army a note that we were writing this blog post.

Free Sgt. Star: Army Ignores FOIA Request for Artificial Intelligence Records