Synopsis: In this AI Leadership Insights video interview, Amanda Razani speaks with Ron Kerbs, CEO of Kidas, about the dangers presented by online video gaming for children and teens, and how AI can be used as a tool to help with this problem.

Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani and I’m with Excited to be speaking with Ron Kerbs. He is the CEO of Kidas. How are you doing today?

Ron Kerbs: I’m good. Thank you, Amanda for having me here.

Amanda Razani: Happy to have you on our show. Can you explain to our audience what is Kidas, and what services do you provide?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah, so Kidas is an AI-based solution for video games. We monitor voice conversations within the video game to protect kids and other gamers for toxicity, so we’re talking about things like scams, bullying, harassment that unfortunately happen quite a bit in video games. Our technology is able to detect those scenarios in real time, protect kids, alert the community managers, alert the parents about those situations, and hopefully make those communities a little bit less toxic.

Amanda Razani: Wonderful. I know that would bring peace of mind to parents, because it seems like children of almost any age are playing online, and on more tablets and screen time, and so we want to ensure the safety of our children. So can you talk about what are some of the biggest safety concerns you are seeing right now as it comes to children being online?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah, so definitely what you said is correct, so more than 90% of the boys in the U.S. play video games and more… It’s 70% of the girls in the U.S. play, and so everyone is almost… everywhere is connected, and what we’re seeing is a lot of scams, bullying, harassment. It’s actually estimated that 60% of the kids will be bullied or harassed in video games before they reach 18, so that’s, of course, unfortunate and those are the situations that we want to deal with.
Our system specifically monitors millions of conversations every month, and we see a lot of private information that is being shared with strangers, so we see kids sharing their parents’ credit card information, date of birth, locations. Of course, things that they shouldn’t be sharing with strangers. A lot of swapping of accounts, so kids sharing their passwords. They don’t even grasp the option that someone will use their password to prevent them accessing their account. A lot of financial frauds, and so kids who are being offered Bitcoin or other things in order for them to send photos of themselves, or those kind of things. We’re dealing with a lot of dangerous situations. All from camps and online predators, sexual predators to bullying, even bullying between friends.
We had a few cases of kids who were bullied by their friends from school, so it’s not only strangers and it’s not just the unknown people bullying those kids. Sometimes those are kids that they know from school who are using the existing connection and relationship to harass those kids.

Amanda Razani: That’s sad. I know that nowadays more than ever, we’re even more concerned, because AI has come onto the scene, and I know there’s a lot of people concerned with AI as it relates to deep fakes, and things like AI phishing scams, and things like that. So how can people playing online these video games, how do they know that who they’re speaking to is a real person or that the information isn’t being gathered by an AI of some sort?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah, it’s very hard to tell it. Even for grownups or even for experts in the field, it is very hard to tell. We have been seeing kids and adults using voice changers within the video games, so kids who are pretending to be adults and adults who are pretending to be kids in order to scam the other side or in order to join certain communities. We’ve seen, actually, a lot of those cases, so it’s very hard to tell. Again, as the scammers get more experienced, they use new techniques, so it’s on our end, the protectors of kids, of gamers to develop new technologies to detect those scams, to detect those new techniques developed by scammers.
In our case, our technology is able to identify the tone of the speaker, the context of the speaker, so is it the first time that they’re talking? Is it a long conversation, detect past experience that they had? Is it the first time that they’re playing together or more than that? And then we’re using the conversation itself to understand if we’re dealing with a scam, or we’re dealing with bullying or harassment, or if it’s something that is okay for the kids.
We have cases of even famous YouTubers with millions of followers that are bullying or harassing kids, because they think that nothing will be done, because they’re famous, and they’re using the influence that they have over those kids who follow them and are big fans of their YouTube channels to harass them while they play. All of those things are things that were taken into account when our AI-based algorithm analyzes the information and basically decides whether it’s bullying, harassment, scam, or something that is okay for those kids.

Amanda Razani: So in other words, you’re combating the AI risk with AI tools to solve the problems, so can you share some use case scenarios of how you’ve been using the AI to provide more safety and security?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah, for sure. Definitely we’re using AI for that, but we also have experts behind the scenes learning what are the recent scams and what are the things that we should be aware of, and training our models to deal with those situations. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of cases of kids who are being asked to share private information of themselves. Something that looks completely benign, and once they share the first detail, then they’re being asked to share more, and more, and more, and more. Always the excuses like, “Hey, you already shared that.” It’s not a big step just to share a little bit more information, a little bit more information, and then the third step, the information is being used against them. We saw a lot of cases of extortion, “Hey, you already shared this photo. I’m going to tell your parents.” “Hey, I’m going to share this photo on social media,” so then they’re forced to share more and more information against their will.
It always starts with a tiny bit of information. Something that looks completely benign that is being shared, and gradually the intensity and the type of information that is being shared is increased over and over, and sometimes it can take a few months. We imagine it as, hey, one incident that is happening within few hours, sometimes those scammers, those online predators are building the relationship for month. They’re going online, they’re talking with hundreds of kids. Basically it’s a fishnet, like it’s bad to say that, but they were casting on that and trying to see who can they catch, so they’re talking with a hundreds of kids and eventually a few of them are sharing the information that are being asked, and then they’re using the information against them.

Amanda Razani: What advice do you have for, not even just parents, but teachers, anyone who’s directly working with children who are playing online? What advice do you have for them, and are your services something that’s out there that can be harnessed and used, say in the school system and at home?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah. I think the biggest advice that we’re giving to parents, to teachers, to educators is, first of all, to inform themselves about the online gaming world. We see a lot of parents giving pieces of advice to their kids without even knowing what is happening there. “Hey, don’t talk with anyone.” That’s not how it works. Everyone is speaking with everyone when you play. Even in certain games, you can’t even play without talking and communicating with your team members, so I think the first step for educators, for parents is to inform themselves what is happening. Have honest conversations with your kids about those situations. “What are you doing there? Who are you playing with? What is the goal of the game? Are you paying to play this game or is it completely free?” Those kind of questions, and be actually curious about what they’re doing, and after you do that, they’ll feel more comfortable to share information with you.
The first thing that we tell parents, also parents who are using our platform, is familiar yourself with Roblox, with Fortnite, with Minecraft, with Discord, all of those games and platforms that kids are using, so you can be a guide and show them how to safely use those platforms. We always compare it to driving. You wouldn’t let your child drive without supervision for the first time. You’re going to be sitting right next to them. You’re going to show them, “Hey, that’s how you drive. That’s what you need to do.” You’re going to be there and guide them through your experience and show them what is right or wrong while driving, and the same is completely true for gaming. Show them, help them learn from their own experience, and then at some point they’ll be ready to do it on their own.
Our system is basically, we see it as a training program for parents and kids, especially in the young ages, to inform themselves and to detect those dangerous situations together, deal with them together and have a conversation starting on what should or shouldn’t be done online, especially while playing.

Amanda Razani: Wonderful. As this technology advances, and it’s more open and available around the world, what do you foresee the future looks like, as far as video gaming and children playing online? What are maybe some of the things to consider moving forward?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah. I think moving forward, we could all understand that video games are here to stay, and we’re pro gaming. I’m pro gaming, the company’s pro gaming. We don’t think that kids shouldn’t be playing. We don’t believe that video games are only bad for you. There is actually a lot of research that shows that video games are good for kids. They’re good in developing social skills, they are good in developing problem solving skills, coordination, and all of those things. There are things that could be developed while playing video games, so video games are here to stay, and parents and educators should adapt to the situation. Instead of kids just going to play outside, they’re also playing in the online virtual world, and that should be encouraged, and that should be done in a safe environment.
We’re seeing a lot of teams of esports teams, esports venues that are providing… or organization that are providing coaches to those kids who actually want to specialize and get better. We’re seeing a lot of colleges that are actually bringing esports stars, teenage stars to… And get scholarships to play on behalf of the universities. Actually, there are 800 universities in the U.S. that are actually giving those scholarships to esports players, so it’s here to stay, and we should adapt accordingly and accept it. Not just treat it as, hey, that’s just a hobby that someone is doing in their basement or late at night, that’s not something that you should do, that hobby. The same as playing football, soccer, basketball, and tennis. That’s one of the activities that kids are doing, and we should encourage them to make the most out of it.

Amanda Razani: Yes, absolutely. I know my son really had a good time on the esports chess team that his school provides, and I’m seeing more and more e-teams being provided by the school system for people to participate in, and he has really advanced his chess skills through that, so definitely a learning environment.
If there is one key takeaway that you can give our audience today, what would that be? What do you want them to remember?

Ron Kerbs: Yeah, I think the one key takeaway that I would want them to remember is that gaming is positive. Don’t think only about the bad, that thinking in gaming. Treat is as a way, the tool to advance the social skills, the problem-solving skills, but definitely understand that, the same as cars, there are car accidents, the same as planes and other tools that we use. There are risk associated with gaming, and you should be aware of those risk, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be using this tool for your own and your kid’s benefit.

Amanda Razani: Well, thank you so much for coming and sharing your insights with us today.

Ron Kerbs: For sure. Thank you very much for having me here.