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

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

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. 

The game opens with an explanation encouraging you to “Help Tensor practice its image recognition!” The description says Tensor is “Santa’s Machine Learning robot.” According to the game, “The more you draw, the smarter Tensor will get,” which will “help Santa be more efficient than ever this holiday season.”

In an email, a Google spokesperson said you shouldn’t take that literally. “We’re sorry for the confusion,” the spokesperson said. “Drawings created by players of the game aren’t used to train AI models. We’ll update the website description to clarify that.” The spokesperson clarified that Quick Draw’s Tensor has no relation to Google’s real AI products that use the same name, which include a series of “AI-first” processors for its Pixel smartphones and TensorFlow, an open-source library for machine learning software.

Google’s says this game doesn’t actually do what it says that it does.

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.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.