Monday, July 17, 2017

The robot and the orange monster

I hope you remember these lines from The Sound of Music: 
When the bear woos
When the dinosaur churns
When I'm feeling steep
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so creep
No, right?

You don't remember those lines because that is not what Oscar Hammerstein wrote.

That verse was authored by a Twitter bot called FavThingsBot.

Yes, algorithms.
Twitter bots are, essentially, computer programs that tweet of their own accord. While people access Twitter through its Web site and other clients, bots connect directly to the Twitter mainline, parsing the information in real time and posting at will; it’s a code-to-code connection, made possible by Twitter’s wide-open application programming interface, or A.P.I. The bots, whose DNA can be written in nearly any modern programming language, live on cloud servers, which never go dark and grow cheaper by the day.
Algorithms are so pervasive that there are sites like this one where you can engage in a Turing Test of sorts, and try to figure out whether even a poem--yes, a poem--was authored by a human or a bot.

Poetry writing bots don't kill people.  But, the robots are already ruining our lives.  "Robots posing as people have become a menace."  They even helped hijack the US elections last November.  What we have seen is the mere beginning:
The problem is almost certain to get worse, spreading to even more areas of life as bots are trained to become better at mimicking humans. Given the degree to which product reviews have been swamped by robots (which tend to hand out five stars with abandon), commercial sabotage in the form of negative bot reviews is not hard to predict. In coming years, campaign finance limits will be (and maybe already are) evaded by robot armies posing as “small” donors. And actual voting is another obvious target — perhaps the ultimate target.
The robots have arrived.  And we created them!
Using robots to fake support, steal tickets or crash democracy really is the kind of evil that science fiction writers were warning about. The use of robots takes advantage of the fact that political campaigns, elections and even open markets make humanistic assumptions, trusting that there is wisdom or at least legitimacy in crowds and value in public debate. But when support and opinion can be manufactured, bad or unpopular arguments can win not by logic but by a novel, dangerous form of force — the ultimate threat to every democracy.
I do follow one bot on Twitter--the bot automatically re-presents the president's crazy tweets into official statements.  This bot tells me that the batshit crazy president tweeted this earlier this morning:
This revolution is being digitized :(


Ramesh said...

I told you. Don't be on Twitter !!

Yes, the bots are destroying much of what is familiar in the online world. All reviews these days are to be taken with a large dose of suspicion - so much so that reviews have essentially lost any value. That's a real pity because it was such an useful tool in the past.

But this has also spawned another irritating phenomenon. Every time I comment on your blog, I have to swear that I am not a bot ! Earlier, this also included having to identify stuff from images. Now I only have to swear (presumably I will be hauled into the US Supreme Court to prove that I am not a robot. Expect a 5-4 decision !)

There used to be a comic series when we were young called Magnus, Robot Fighter. He used to fight physical robots to save mankind. Maybe we should invent a digital version of him to fight these pesky online bots.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, which is why the NY Times piece that I had linked to is titled, "Please Prove You’re Not a Robot" ... a kind of robots taking over the world that we had not really imagined. I suppose yet again the reality is stranger than fiction!

You and I read very different things when young, it seems. I have never heard of this comic series that you refer to. And when did you have time for it anyway, with your cricket, TT, and school? ;)

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