Math geeking

Spambot spams about spambots

A while ago, I posted about “spambots” — little robots that troll around the Net looking for blogs, then leaving advertising messages in the comment fields. As public rancor about this problem has grown, the bots themselves have become oddly solicitous. For example, when I recently wrote a blog entry entitled “Automatic Butt Kicker,” a bot wrote the following comment:

Automatic butt kicker?! That’s classic! :)

Posted by: Online Pharmacy on October 31, 2003 01:05 PM

You can see the algorithm at work here. The bot’s been programmed to take the title to the blog entry — “Automatic Butt Kicker” — and simply regurgitate it as a statement, in classic Eliza fashion. The ad, such as it is, is very discreet: It’s just the URL for “Online Pharmacy.” The spambot even renders the echoed phrase in lower case, to make it look more realistic yet.

All of which might make you wonder: Why are spammers going to such incredible lengths? Because bloggers are starting to wise up and mass delete all these spambot postings. They can recognize the obvious pitchmanship from a mile away. Thus, the more human-like the spambot appears to be — the more its written comments seem to be that of a genuinely real Collision Detection visitor — the more likely I am to simply not notice that its comments are ads, and to leave them in place.

Consider just how Darwinian this is. We are witnessing, in essence, a multistage evolutionary fight. In stage 1), the spambots come online, filling blogs with product-shilling so brazen that we bloggers immediately recognize the bots are, well, bots. In stage 2), the spammers realize they have to pass the Turing Test — they have to create better artificial intelligence so that the bloggers won’t even notice that bots are posting to their boards. The hostile environment online is forcing spambots to evolve better and more lifelike A.I. At this rate, in six months they’ll grow opposable thumbs and kill us all.

It gets even weirder. Two weeks ago, I wrote about spambots for the first time, in a posting entitled “Spambots: The new scourge of blogs”. In the discussion area, several Collision Detection readers posted intelligent comments about different ways to block spambots, which was very cool. But then today I discovered a new comment:

I agree..

Posted by: Canadian Pharmacy on November 2, 2003 11:46 AM

It was my old friend, the Canadian Pharmacy spambot! The situation couldn’t be more dementedly self-referential: A spambot had posted its earnest agreement to a posting that was itself about how to get rid of spambots.

If that isn’t the nine billionth name of God, I don’t know what is.

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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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