‘Urgent action’ needed to help UK pupils understand risk of AI-generated indecent images

Pupils at UK schools are using AI to generate indecent images of other children and urgent action is needed to help children understand the risks of using technology in this manner, the UK Safer Internet Center (UKSIC) has said.

The child protection organisation, which is made up of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), and Childnet, said it has been receiving reports from schools with teachers warning that pupils are using AI to create imagery which legally constitutes child sexual abuse material.

The organisation said children may be making this imagery for a range of reasons including curiosity and sexual exploration, but images can quickly get out of hand and children risk “losing control” of the material which can then circulate on the internet.

The UKSIC urged schools to ensure their filtering and monitoring systems can effectively block illegal material across their school devices to combat this emerging threat.

Imagery of child sexual abuse is illegal in the UK, whether AI generated or photographic – with even cartoon or less realistic depictions still being illegal to make, possess, and distribute.

“This technology has enormous potential for good, but the reports we are seeing should not come as a surprise,” said David Wright, director at UKSIC and chief executive of SWGfL. “Young people are not always aware of the seriousness of what they are doing, yet these types of harmful behaviours should be anticipated when new technologies, like AI generators, become more accessible to the public.”

He added: “Although the case numbers are currently small, we are in the foothills and need to see steps being taken now, before schools become overwhelmed and the problem grows. An increase in criminal content being made in schools is something we never want to see, and interventions must be made urgently to prevent this from spreading further.”

Last month, the IWF warned that thousands of AI generated images depicting the sexual abuse of children are threatening to “overwhelm” the internet. The charity said its “worst nightmares” are coming true as predators are now able to make AI images of real child victims.

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