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Rise of the bots

I love robots. Not just the bone-crushing behemoths that fill my daydreams, but also the online bots that cause mischief, carry out good deeds and generally tick-along in the back-corridors of the web. In this post I want to explore a couple of different things about robots and bots that are exciting me right now.

Bots taking over the world

Will recommended I read Daemon, a thriller about a dead videogame genius whose legacy is a network of bots poised to trigger evil deeds after key real-world occurrences. For example, on his death two key software engineers are murdered by technology in order to preserve the secrets of the daemons‘ development, and when the FBI storm the dead genius’s house, they’re attacked by bot-controlled hummers and disembodied voices. It’s an awesome book even if you just treat it as a holiday page-turner, but the ideas within it have nagged me ever since.

It’s pretty easy to set up bots for a variety of reasons – services like ifttt will carry out simple social tasks based on triggers. It’s not difficult to imagine these carrying on long after your death, freaking out your loved ones by posting random flickr albums or tumblr posts. Obviously killing software engineers is a long way from an automated social action, but the principle is the same; granting permission to a line of code to execute a real-world action.

Bots as people

If bots can carry out actions that replicate human behaviour, then why not create fully formed personas to learn from? This is the thinking behind online replicators (or replicants if you’re a Blade Runner fan). Social entities with preferences, hobbies, networks and habits, these replicators trawl the web for content and conversation, much like we do. Occasionally, something will catch their robotic eye and will be reposted, much like we do. When you think long and hard, how different is your Twitter behaviour to that of a bot?

Anyway, the potential for market-researchers, governments, or anyone else with an interest in human behaviour, is pretty awesome. Rather than paying for expensive surveys or focus groups, create an army of demographic bots and learn from them.

It’s easy to create your own replicator, if only to do some boring social leg work on your behalf. allows you to create a quick and simple bot to add to your Twitter or Facebook output. It’s efforts for me so far have been a bit rubbish, but I like the idea of having a robot working for me, even if it’s not this one.

Clever man Matt Pearson took this one step further and built an alternate (and dead) version of himself.

Any other cool robot/bot stuff you’ve seen? Maybe we could set up an army and create our own daemon?

ps. if the bots ever do take over, this handy list should help prepare you.

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  1. By What happens when we meet the bots? - NixonMcInnes on 14th August 2012 at 1:00 pm

    [...] m not sure if Ross’s obsession with robots has rubbed off on me a bit but the idea of the algo-bots and their dark and silent meddling in our [...]