On Bots

I missed a week of my Digital Alchemy class one week earlier this year. Think I wasn’t feeling too well, maybe the bed was too comfy, maybe a combination of both. But either way, I figured that I was mostly caught up and therefore could just come back the next week and pick up on the Twitter discussions in the meantime.

Big mistake.

For the next several days, I kept getting mentioned on Twitter by members of the class. Aw man, they kept me in the know! But the Tweets quickly turned from interesting, to nonsensical. Uh, just why did they need to send me that article over Twitter? Why are they asking me about how I felt about the idea of social media selling our private information to advertising? Is this what typical Twitter conversation had become in the one week I wasn’t there?

Turns out it wasn’t so dramatic after all. The class that week was just experimenting with bots, was all.

Bots are one of those few things that bring us closer and closer to Skynet every day; artificial intelligence programs that are designed to think and act a certain way, or even worse, like us. Sometimes they’re just simple automated programs, designed to make retweeting or simultaneous social media posting easier.

Reading through the Bots section of the Electronic Literature Collection however, felt significantly less mechanical then I would’ve thought. Several of the bots were Twitter bots, which I mentioned before. But these weren’t necessarily just scheduling Tweets, these were a little more advanced than that. Instead, each bot had a particular task it was put up to, and some were a bit more coherent than others. “Pentameteon” for instance, Hailing from “Stratford-upon-Internet”, as if the Shakespeare profile picture wasn’t obvious enough, is an algorithm designed to find phrases in Tweets and other words that compose a rhyming scheme that modern Eminem would be proud of. The Tweets don’t necessarily make sense when they rhyme, but sometimes there are some memorable combinations to be had.

Rap bars of the year.

On the opposite end of the bot spectrum is “ROM TXT”, who’s sole goal according to its Twitter profile, is “Searching video game ROMs, looking for words and sometimes finding them. For beauty.” And while the premise sounds simple enough, the actual execution results in a fragmented, almost creepy line of words and letters that don’t necessarily have any meaning to them.

Cryptic warning, or unused game text from Ecco The Dolphin? Maybe both?

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about these Twitter bots is just how normalized they seem to be just by being on Twitter; they have followers and followings, retweets and likes. The visual interfaces never force us to struggle, only the content they have presented.

Overall, this isn’t my first run-in with bots, but it always becomes more and more fascinating to see just exactly what they can be capable of. While Skynet is hopefully still just a fantasy, these guys are getting smarter and smarter, and hopefully they’ll continue to be used for the good fights…..and not Skynet.

This bot is programmed for fighting the good fight.

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