Talking Angela: How App Game Was Designed So Well People Believed ‘Pedophile’ Hoax

March 6, 2014 Updated: March 8, 2014

The Talking Angela app became one of the most popular games of all time after viral hoaxes about it circulated far and wide. It’s been downloaded over 57 million times.

The game features a talking cat (Angela), whom the users interact with and do things like buy different outfits for.

Some of the hoaxes say that the game targets kids by asking for personal details such as what school they go to.

Another hoax claimed that there was a human controlling the cat in real time, and said that there were pedophiles behind it.

Bruce Wilcox and his wife Sue programmed the game, and are among the most accomplished chatbot programmers in the world. 

“Angela has millions of people chatting with her every day. They couldn’t hire enough pedophiles to do that chatting. She’s strictly a conversation agent, residing locally on the phone,” Wilcox told CNet

He does understand why people thought that there were humans behind the cat.

“The more realistic an AI is, the more people will see their own fears and fantasies in what it says. Parents are hypersensitive these days. But there were obvious lies being said, so it was more than mere hypersensitivity. They made claims of things Angela said that we know she couldn’t have said.”

“Angela asks about your family, but she doesn’t memorize that you have a brother, so she wouldn’t inquire about your brother later. And some things that have been attributed to her saying about tongues (in the sexual sense), she does not have in her repertoire,” he added.

“What makes our technology so convincing is that, unlike most chatbots out there, which can make single quibbling responses to inputs, ours can lead conversations and find appropriate prescripting things to say much of the time. We care about backstory and personality and emotion, and strive to create true characters with a life of their own whose aim is to draw the user into their world. The characters are convincing because they are convinced of their own reality…Angela successfully captures the teen personality. For Angela it is all about her feelings. And Angela is selfish at times. And not only can she be rude but she can detect you being rude and react appropriately. This user is deeply involved in emotional reactions to Angela. That’s what we strive for.

“We won the 2010 Loebner Prize by fooling a human judge into thinking our chatbot was a human. It was accomplished in part via our attention to creating synthetic emotion.”

So parents can rest safe knowing the popular game is safe.