Google Promises Its Christmas Game Doesn’t Use Kids to Train AI

Google's Quick Draw game.

Google’s Quick Draw game.

Google “how many days until Christmas” on a computer, and you’ll find a little animated present that transports you to the company’s Santa Tracker hub, a winter wonderland full of activities and educational content for children. Among the offerings is a guessing game called Quick Draw, which makes an explicit and unsettling promise to train “Tensor” on kids’ drawings. According to the company, however, it’s just a cheeky Christmas joke and the intent isn’t really to hone its algorithms on children’s data.

Quick Draw gives you an object to draw like candy, a nutcracker, or a sleigh. As you sketch, a little animated robot named “Tensor” tries to guess what you’re drawing. TensorFlow happens to be the name of a software library for machine learning and AI that was developed by the Google Brain team. So it could be easy to assume the cute little robot helping Santa is a front for an AI monster lurking behind the curtain.

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According to Google’s press department, Quick Draw debuted around 2017, long before questions about artificial intelligence reached the current existential fever pitch of the post-ChatGPT world.

There’s good reason to be skeptical of big tech, but it makes sense that Quick Draw isn’t just a ploy to put kids to work in Google’s AI workshop. Google is particularly apprehensive about bad press, even compared to its often cautions big tech rivals. Most of the company’s projects go through a series of legal and PR checks to ensure Google isn’t stepping into the mud; if Quick Draw was really harvesting kids’ data, it’s hard to imagine Google would be so upfront and cheerful about it. There are less risky (and relatively inexpensive) ways for the company to train up its AI army, especially when the general public is hyper-sensitive to kids’ privacy issues.

Whether or not Quick Draw is turning kids into Santa’s AI helpers, it is helping to ease them into a future that many find unsettling, one where the world is filled with robots built by corporations like Google at every turn.

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