Invasion of the friendly bots

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Cleaning up one’s publically held image is difficult to do. Being branded a cheater, or a dangerous place, or “not cool” can be a death sentence in the public eye. In 1970s New York City was known the world over as a cesspool of moral decrepitude and crime, The New England Patriots have been battling the label of cheaters for 10 years now, and Donny Osmond has easilly been the lamest man in music since the release of “Puppy Love” in the early 1970s. New York cleaned up it's act, The Patriots have pretty much ignored the cheater cries, and Donny Osmond is just too far gone to really turn it around. Of course there is another way to right a drifting reputation, and that’s make a splash before too many people know about your misdeeds. In technology “bots” find themselves on a serious course-correcting path to public acceptance.

For years now bots, or programs with the sole purpose of replicating human interactions and decision making, have been a serious menace to the casual computing world. If hackers wanted to take down website, a bot could be programmed to overload a server. If foreign governments wanted to crack into a military computer system or steal corporate secrets, bots could be designed to brute force their way through software weaknesses. If you surfed your way to some nefarious website or downloaded an attachment you probably shouldn’t have, there’s a good chance the virus you encountered could have been a bot that copied your information and sent it off to a unscrupulous programmer just waiting for passwords and personal data. Put simply, bots were evil.

But nobody really outside of programs and those with an above average technoliteracy understood what they were. The closest the general public has coming to really grasping what bots were was on Twitter. Due to it's easy signup process, a great deal of Twitter’s users are bots; programs designed to mimic human interaction. Some of these Twitterbots simply follow language looking for hashtags and tweets related to a certain topic. Once found these bots favorite, retweet, and follow just to heighten that topics visibility. Other bots are programmed to create scores of fake users simply to pump an accounts follow numbers, making them looking far more popular than they actually are.

So first bots were hidden behind the publically held disguise of viruses, then some encounter them as a nuisance through social networking, but today they’re encountering an impressive makeover most the biggest power brokers in tech. Microsoft, Facebook, Google, everybody wants in on a this piece of technology that can systematically assist users in customer service, product discovery and purchasing, and manage vast amounts of communications and electronically held data. Remember in the 90s when computerized customer service was introduced on troubleshooting hotlines? Well these crude systems were the shameful first iteration of bots. After some major overhauling, backed by legions of data farms, bots can guide web users through inquiries and data discovery without the user ever realizing they’re conversing with a computer program, not an extremely helpful person.

The ultimate goal for these companies is to simplify the computing experience for users, so they’ll stay committed to each ecosystem. If Gmail started analyzing your communication style and anticipated your needs a bot might remind you to include certain remarks, attachments, links, and suggest extra recipients to your emails. Facebook might see you’re looking at a friends picture with someone you don’t know tagged and a bot would sideload that other person’s profile for easy access.

Setting aside Microsoft’s most recent attempt at publically releasing a Twitterbot, @TayTweets, ended with the program becoming a sex crazed bigot, bots are the future. These programs will learn from us and know what we want before you want it. It’s a little creepy and as these programs become even more ubiquitous privacy will become even more of an issue. So ready or not, get ready to accidentally create your digital replica. Welcome to the future, we know exactly what you’re looking for.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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