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AI could protect children from online sexual abuse

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Technology is being developed that can block sexual or violent content as it is being filmed, shared or livestreamed, which could help safeguard hundreds of thousands of children.

SafeToNet, a startup firm in Britain, is using live-threat detection software, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), to identify potentially harmful material as it is filmed or shared in real time.

It could be used on children's phones to prevent them creating, sending or receiving video or pictures involving nudity, sexual content and violence "before any damage is done".

This is believed to be key to ensuring safeguarding, given that 29pc of child sexual abuse content acted on last year by the UK charity Internet Watch Foundation was self-generated, and this proportion is rising steeply.

Social media companies could use the technology to help prevent graphic content being uploaded and to interrupt livestreams.

The company has already produced a device using similar AI which detects patterns on a phone's keyboard to prevent sexting, bullying and other abuse. The technology flagged up girls as young as nine who were being sent explicit texts.

Chief executive Richard Pursey said the technology could help prevent grooming, 'sextortion' and bullying.

He said: "A phone is the most dangerous weapon known to man as far as I'm concerned, because you can do anything you like - talk to anybody you like, look at anything you like, hear anything you like, share anything you like. And it's in an ungoverned, unregulated world."

In November, 2,000 families will start testing the software which is expected to be ready for release by mid-2021.

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