One-button games, pt. 2

Bot cops: The bad lieutenants

Excellent piece by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds (and Instapundit guy) on how bots are being used increasingly for law enforcement. This ranges from automated speed-trap bots (which take a snapshot of your car if they detect you speeding) to bots created by record companies to crawl the Net looking for supposedly illegal warez and bootlegs.

The problem is — as almost any AI scientist could tell you — that bot intelligence is still far too crappy to be a basis for law enforcement. Recently, the Internet Service Provider Association filed a brief complaining about bots that the Recording Industry Association of America has turned loose. Some of the stuff these ‘bots have fingered is berserk:

The brief also identifies a file entitled “harry potter book report.rtf” whose name and tiny size (1K) make obvious that it is not an illegal copy of the Harry Potter movie. Obvious to anyone who looks, anyway. But why should the record and movie companies bother to look? They’re unlikely to suffer any damages if ISPs take down the wrong files, and the consumers involved are unlikely to sue them. (In filing with the Internet Service Providers, a company representative even certified in writing “that we have a good faith belief that use of the material … is not authorized by Warner Bros. … or the law.” Puhleez.)

Much like the operators of rigged traffic cameras, they’re relying on their own institutional power — and the hassle of opposing them — to let them get away with near-criminal sloppiness. It’s bad enough that you might lose your Internet connection because of such carelessness — but you could wind up in even worse trouble.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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