ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections, have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM, the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform, it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
The bot (which also offers users the opportunity to chat with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman) isn’t a true conversational agent, in the sense that the bot’s responses are currently a little limited; this isn’t a truly “freestyle” chatbot. For example, in the conversation above, the bot didn’t recognize the reply as a valid response – kind of a bummer if you’re hoping for an immersive experience.
Bots are also used to buy up good seats for concerts, particularly by ticket brokers who resell the tickets. Bots are employed against entertainment event-ticketing sites. The bots are used by ticket brokers to unfairly obtain the best seats for themselves while depriving the general public of also having a chance to obtain the good seats. The bot runs through the purchase process and obtains better seats by pulling as many seats back as it can.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
Earlier, I made a rather lazy joke with a reference to the Terminator movie franchise, in which an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet becomes self-aware and identifies the human race as the greatest threat to its own survival, triggering a global nuclear war by preemptively launching the missiles under its command at cities around the world. (If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, the first two are excellent but I’d strongly advise steering clear of later entries in the franchise.)
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist