Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We Are All 'Bots In The Machine...

Here's an interesting story in The Atlantic I think is pitch-perfect metaphor for the current state of critical thought and discourse in this country.

From the story:

One day last February, a Twitter user in California named Billy received a tweet from @JamesMTitus, identified in his profile as a “24 year old dude” from Christchurch, New Zealand, who had the avatar of a tabby cat. “If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?,” @JamesMTitus asked. Billy tweeted back, “Jesus,” to which @JamesMTitus replied: “honestly? no fracking way. ahahahhaa.” Their exchange continued, and Billy began following @JamesMTitus. It probably never occurred to him that the Kiwi dude with an apparent love of cats was, in fact, a robot.

JamesMTitus was manufactured by cyber-security specialists in New Zealand participating in a two-week social-engineering experiment organized by the Web Ecology Project. Based in Boston, the group had conducted demographic analyses of Chatroulette and studies of Twitter networks during the recent Middle East protests. It was now interested in a question of particular concern to social-media experts and marketers: Is it possible not only to infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale?

The group invited three teams to program “social bots”—fake identities—that could mimic human conversation on Twitter, and then picked 500 real users on the social network, the core of whom shared a fondness for cats. The Kiwis armed JamesMTitus with a database of generic responses (“Oh, that’s very interesting, tell me more about that”) and designed it to systematically test parts of the network for what tweets generated the most responses, and then to talk to the most responsive people.

But here's the best part...

After the first week, the teams were allowed to tweak their bot’s code and to launch secondary identities designed to sabotage their competitors’ bots. One team unleashed @botcops, which alerted users, “You might want to be suspicious about JamesMTitus.” In one exchange, a British user confronted the alleged bot: “What do you say @JamesMTitus?” The robot replied obliquely, “Yeah, so true!” The Brit pressed: “Yeah so true! You mean I should be suspicious of you? Or that @botcops should be challenged?” JamesMTitus evaded detection with a vague tweet back—“Right on bro”—and acquired 109 followers over two weeks. Network graphs subsequently showed that the three teams’ bots had insinuated themselves into the center of the target network.

 The more I am confronted with the increasingly invasive ubiquety of social media and its frenzied, orgasmic craving for constant connectivity; the superficial, utterly banal white noise it generates in lieu of even half-assed genuine and organic thought and/or dialogue, the more tempted I am to just say fuck it all, pull the plug on everything and go raise goats for a living.

Granted, the conversations may be a little one-sided, but at least they'd be real.


  1. Dammit, man! My cover is blown. My program will not terminate.

    Seriously, everywhere I look I see a rapid downward spiral of human intelligence while the meme reigns supreme (there's a punk song there somewhere). People are surrendering their common sense and buying into pure idiocy. The other day, I read someone ranting about how "all Facebook cares about is their profits, and not about the members at all."

    Frickin' duh! It's a business! A corporation. It was designed as a platform for advertising and data collection. The users/members are the willing commodity that Facebook sells to their customers. What the hell makes anyone think it's about more than making money?

    I used to think people got so involved in social media just to "hear" themselves "talk." But that can't be true, because honestly, if half of them paid attention to what they were really saying half the time, they'd hang themselves in shame and embarrassment. And that's not even to mention the ridiculous bullshit they buy into just because they read it on the Internet... and then to get violently defensive when someone points out the logical flaw.

    Ahh... it's too much to even write about.

    It's not all people, and it's not all of the time. But it's enough and appears to be increasing until my already pessimistic attitude sees absolutely no positive outcome.

    I'm gonna go sulk under my cloud of gloom now. Thanks, Chad.

  2. Sorry, man. That's what I've been programmed - I mean - that's what I'm here for...

  3. I was strongly urged to get a Twitter account a while back for a particular something I was partaking in, so I obliged. All it ended up doing was encouraging my latent misanthropy. I can't believe people walk around all day, staring into their "smart" phones, following all the bullshit people post on there.

    When I nuked my F-book acct, I was actually told that it would be "career suicide." That, in this day and age, it is "essential" that I'm using social media. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at that. No one ever contacted me with a work assignment as a result of finding me on F-book, and the work continues to flow my way with the same regularity (or lack thereof). I'm amazed at how many people slavishly buy into the whole thing - even defend it. It is only seen as "essential" because so many people really, really want to believe that it is essential. Aside from that, it really just amounts to a bunch of bizarre, narcissistic behavior that sadly passes for being 'social' in this day and age.

    There is this collective mania taking over our society that believes that being as "connected" as you possibly can be is all-important. Sadly, the result I see is more and more people being disconnected from what's actually real.

    I don't miss it one bit. I'd rather go for a walk in the woods behind my house than waste my life away on that idiocy. I mean, when you're laying on your death bed, are you going to look back fondly at how much of your life you spent on F-book?

  4. Damn, Bruce, and all this time I thought I'd done something to make you unfriend me...

    I hear you. I'm very close to ending the Facebook thing. Hell, if I want to read about everyday banality I'll just go read my diary...