The poetry of spam

When a robot says “dude

As I never tire of saying, artificial intelligence is most successful not when it aims high — but when it aims low.

Computer scientists have tried for years to get a computer to talk intelligently about philosophy and art and politics. They’ve all failed. But what they don’t realize is that this goal is kind of beside the point, because real-life humans themselves almost never talk about philosophy and art and politics. No, we mostly just sit around yelling “wazzup” and “right on” at each other. To emulate a human realistically, you don’t have to realistically capture the empyrean majesty of our imaginations. All you have to do is program a ‘bot to goof around and flip people off. That is, after all, what most of us do, 90% of the day.

This is nowhere more true than in the world of online games. Any ‘bot that’s been programmed with a few basic bits of trash talk is virtually indistinguishable from the zillions of folks playing, say, the online game Star Wars Galaxies. To prove it, Dave Kosak at GameSpy recently created a ‘bot to play as his character “Farglik.” He called it Autocamp 2000, and gave the ‘bot very simple rules of behavior:

1. Join any group that invites you
2. When in a group, follow behind the leader
3. Attack any monster you see
4. Accept all trade requests from other players, then give them a melon

He also gave it an incredibly small number of conversational gambits:

1. If someone says something ending in a question mark, respond by saying “Dude?”
2. If someone says something ending in an exclamation point, respond by saying “Dude!”
3. If someone says something ending with a period, respond by randomly saying one of three things: “Okie,” “Sure,” or “Right on.”
4. EXCEPTION: If someone says something directly to you by mentioning your name, respond by saying “Lag.”

Pretty simple, eh? Nonetheless, ‘bot did a reasonably good job of passing itself off as human. They provide several transcripts in the story site, one of which I’ve excerpted below; click on the “more” button below, and you’ll see just how convincing a ‘bot can be.

(Thanks again to Lonnie Foster at Tribblescape for this one!)

(NOTE: An earlier posting of this item inaccurately attributed the ‘bot to a blogger, but someone wrote in to the comments area to correct me; thanks, whoever you were!)

KillSwitch: [Shouting] Does anyone want to join our hunting party?
Farglik: [Powered by the Autocamp 2000] Dude?
[KillSwitch invites Farglik to join the group.]
[Farglik joins the group]
KillSwitch: We’re gonna go hunt wrixes.
Farglik: Right on.
[The group of players runs out of the Cantina, Farglik following close behind. Farglik shoots at every little monster they pass.]
KillSwitch: Why are you attacking the durneys?
Farglik: Dude?
KillSwitch: The durneys, the little bunny things — why do you keep shooting at them?
Farglik: Dude?
Troobacca: [A wookie in the party] My weapon powerup expired, I need a new one.
Farglik: Sure.
[Troobacca opens a trade with Farglik.]
[Farglik hands him a melon.]
Troobacca: …what’s this?
Farglik: Dude?
Troobacca: You handed me a melon!
Farglik: Dude!

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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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