Filed under ‘Doing it Wrong’
(disclaimer: the author of this blog freelances with Philterphactory)
I actually quite liked this Jon Ronson chap when I heard him on NPR podcast on bots recently. Perhaps it’s the wonderful radio voice he sports, but he also expressed just the right amount of balance in reporting on Bina Bot.
So it was to my dismay that I saw him in this Gaurdian featurette. He’s reporting on something which caught my eye recently, the Social Bot project. However both Jon and the Project come away diminished after viewing this. It features as part of ESC & CTRL, a series of featurettes (disclaimer: none of the rest of which have I watched) exploring the dominion of technology over us, something which has become more zeitgeisty (and, perhaps inevitably, less tightly defined) since AWOBMLG.
The video spends an awful lot showing one or two bots, without explaining what the bots were doing and showing an info-viz which purports to show how the social graph has been distorted (I cannot write social graph without smirking ever since Maciej Ceglowski adminstered a wonderful tear down of the whole concept). Tim Hwang offers little in the way of explaining how he figured the bots were actually evincing any kind of effect and so his research looks impoverished as a consequence. And Jon looks amateurish for putting out 5 minutes of footage which feels uninformative at best.
I’m being vicious as I feel it’s a shame that nothing more substantial is offered in this vignette. At the end of this year I expect we can will find out where DARPA has spent it’s commissions in enrolling a company to provide them with software to do exactly just what Hwang has done with his competition’s bots, but on a larger and more efficient scale, with the deliberate intent of managing insurrection (discrediting authentic sources) and ensuring the effective dissemination of counter-propaganda through the social web.
DARPA has apparently shelled out a sizeable amount for these commissions, spending $42 million of their meme tracker (although I can’t help but ponder how effective CAN it be, and that was before I read Mat Morrison’s myth busting of sentiment analysis). And all this in a week where Moscow created THOUSANDS of bots to influence trending topics on twitter in advance of Putin’s TV question and answers session. I can easily see a spook social media ponzi scheme developing where bots influence bots and it all trickles down to some vague social media report in the Pentagon. Twiter doesn’t have enough capacity to Blade Runner all those bots, surely that will have to be part of DARPA’s strategy…