Chatbots, social media and the law

The rise of ‘social bots’ has reached a tipping point in 2016, with four of the largest technology behemoths, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook, putting their commercial and technological weight behind bot technology and announcing commercial products. This has been precipitated by the explosion of social media and has given these technologies an incredibly rich ground within which to learn, cause mischief and interact with their human users. The journey to this point has been long and tumultuous with these new technologies causing legal questions throughout their development. Parallel to this, the advent of hyper-scale, cloud-based systems and data analysis, combined with advanced artificial intelligence techniques means the potential for this convergent technology to shake the foundations of our privacy and even legal frameworks needs to be considered.

This paper will examine the history of these social bots, from their humble start as web crawlers and simple, action-orientated algorithms, to the more complicated self-learning bots that roam social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Furthermore, we will look at the complications that arise from teaching bots from social data and explore whether the algorithmic filtering of content used to increase consumer engagement skews or biases a bot’s ability to interact meaningfully across a range of audiences. Finally, we will look at the legal ramifications of social bots as their technology matures by examining the effects of filter bubbles, data collection, social trust and whether bots can have intent. Continue reading “Chatbots, social media and the law”

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The Unimportance of Immediacy

I’ve barely touched Twitter in the last 3 months — it isn’t that I’m not tweeting, I’m not even checking it. This seemed to happen shortly after I read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, another great book talking about humanity’s adolescent approach to the Internet at the moment. While the overall tone of the book was a little too “doomsday” for me, he had some fantastic ideas on the importance that immediacy has gained in the last few years.

24 hour news, Twitter feeds, Facebook statuses, news aggregators and near real-time search engines are pumping information at us at a pace we’ve never experienced before. As consumers, we’re all expecting and demanding this sort of information, as we’d check Facebook and expect the latest news from our friends, check the BBC News website for minute-by-minute updates etc. However, over time this has had the undesired fact that this immediacy (or at least desire for) is now pervasive.

How many people have noticed their attention span has significantly decreased over the last few years? How many people feel like they’re undergoing withdrawal symptoms when they leave their phone at home? How many of you actively crave your information fix?

I do. Continue reading “The Unimportance of Immediacy”

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The Hivemind, Groupthink, Social Media and Individuality

I recently finished the fantastic book by Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget and one fairly central theme was how humans interact en masse. Much of the Internet often centres on this idea of the “hivemind” and harnessing little quanta of intelligence from a vast number of Internet-connected people to some end. Wikipedia is a prime example of this — lots of (often) anonymous people creating, editing and tweaking articles about…well, pretty much everything.

The hivemind was always an idea that both intrigued and perplexed me. I love the idea that we can harness intelligence in a similar way to harness spare compute cycles (i.e., SETI) and emergent or self-organizational behaviour continues to fascinate me. However, I’ve never been completely comfortable with how viable this is taken at an human-intellectual level. A compute cycle is a known entity ? if it changes, it scales in size which affords you more work. Human intelligence is very much an unknown, in both scale and quality.

Wikipedia seems like a great example of how this might work. However, the anonymity behind Wikipedia makes it hard to ascertain how much of it is truly the hivemind at work, versus several experts or fans creating information that is subsequently updated as time moves forward (aside: he makes an interesting parallel between Wikipedia and the Bible). Much of Lanier’s arguments against Wikipedia seem aimed more at the cultural ? search engines increasingly point to Wikipedia as the first listing, taking relevance away from other peripheral sites. As Wikipedia aims to be encyclopedic in nature, human opinions, insights and extremism is (often) missing from entries. Rightly or wrongly, it is these thoughts and opinions that gives us our rich and diverse global cultures.

The concern is that “hivemind” projects combined with the cloud-computing Overlords’ search algorithms is leading the human race down a path that inherently limits rather than frees the information we have readily accessible to us. While I have a small issue with his choice of words, the sentiment is beautifully summarized as:

“We should not seek to make the pack mentality efficient. We should seek to inspire the phenomena of individual intelligence.” – Jaron Lanier

Continue reading “The Hivemind, Groupthink, Social Media and Individuality”

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