Please Confirm You Are Not a Robot

Thanks, I had to make sure that no bots would read my blog, you know? CAPTCHA is something we most definitely have all seen online. A regular CAPTCHA usually requires the individual behind the screen to type in the displayed text from a distorted image. Despite seeing it, a common internet user most likely does not have a clue what it is used for. First of all, I should have asked what is it being used against? Robots…duh… Well, let’s take a closer look, because every time I am asked to fill out a CAPTCHA, for some reason, I think of an actual robot somewhere sitting behind a screen, trying to complete the required task.

To those who think bots are a modern concept, keep in mind that the first CAPTCHA, according to, was invented in 1997. This makes sense, since even during the early time of the internet, people were trying to bend the rules to their own benefit. A few commercial uses followed in 2001, with PayPal contributing significantly to CAPTCHA’s fame. CAPTCHA was used to prevent a variety of actions: financial fraud activity, creation of free emails for the sake of sending out spam, submitting comments for the sake of influencing the political opinion of the people, and many others.

But while the concept of CAPTCHA does sound very useful, according to the Huffington Post article, many have complained about it. People with certain level of vision disability were unable to follow through the CAPTCHA requests, and were filtered out along with the bots. Furthermore, since CAPTCHAs are computer generated, some can come across as offensive or just simply ridiculous requests. So while CAPTCHA is crucial to today’s internet use, it is important to constantly work on improving it.


Posted from DIG 101 Blog by Andriy M.

Strunkbot and Whitebot

Samuel Woolley’s “How to Think About Bots” provides fodder for important ethical conversations around culpability and digital autonomy, but also for philosophical conversations around authorship and art. I was vaguely aware that bots routinely produce articles and writing, but I always thought it would be easy to distinguish such articles as “bot writing.” But when I took the New York Times quiz that Woolley cites, “Did a Computer or a Human Write This?”, I earned a devastating 3/8 (apparently better than 8% of players). All this is to say that bots are incredibly successful at reproducing patterns of human writing and discourse. It really makes me wonder why I have spent my college education programming my brain with the rules of Strunk and White, agonizing over word choice and split infinitives, when a bot can produce similar-quality writing at a much faster pace.

Indeed, even the kind of carefully crafted speech called for in response to a tragedy may be predicted and replicated by a bot. My friend and fellow Davidson student Arianna Montero-Colbert created a bot that generates institutional responses to tragedies—you know, the kind of campus-wide email we get from CQ after a devastating shooting or police killing that makes vague calls for “unity” and “dignity” rather than any kind of coherent political action. Arianna’s bot is scary good at imitating those detached, performative responses, and the results are chilling . We might consider tragedies as occasions that call for some novel or groundbreaking commentary, but Tragedy Bot shows us that even CQ’s eloquent prose adheres to discursive patterns, tropes, and clichés that can be replicated by a bot.

from Arianna Montero-Colbert’s “Institutional Response Generator”


Posted from Digital Studies by Hannah L.

The Future of AI is OpenAI

As we look into bots in class, the first company that comes to mind in regards to artificial intelligence is OpenAI. Backed by Elon Musk, and many other funders like Amazon, OpenAI is a Machine Learning research company whose goal is to catapult our current intelligent technology far beyond its current level. What’s crazy is that the company actually accomplishes this by letting the computers teach everything to themselves.

Some of OpenAI’s most successful projects come from their self-play learning system: where apart from telling the computers when they are doing a good job, the computers themselves are left to figure out how to accomplish a task.

One example of this is OpenAI’s Dota 2 bot. Dota 2 is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game that has a huge competitive following. The bot itself is unlike the usual bots in the game because it isn’t given any sets of moves beforehand. The bot has to test the water for itself. It learns it has inputs, then that each input has an action, then that there are enemies that do harm, and positive things to do to combat attacks, etc. Until, like what happened around August 16th, 2017, the bot is perfectly capable of playing the game on it’s own.

It is still learning, though, and through more trial and error can only get better. You can read more about the specifics of their task here, but motivating the bots to use tactics that professionals use has given them an edge where they can beat even some of the best players in the world. One thing that is unique that is explained in this video is that the bot even learns from what the opponent is doing in real time. And, because in development the opponent is always a copy of the bot, it always has an equal competitor to learn from. Using pattern recognition and pre-developed strategies from previous generations of the bot, it develops ways to climb its own ladder of success.

Machine Learning is an incredible technology which, thanks to OpenAI and other frontrunners in the field, is helping us understand and progress society today. Although scary, this technology can be used for even more practical applications like prediction of spread of diseases, halting the spread of viruses, and more. It’s even starting to be put into our cars to make commuting safer and easier. Applications for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are everywhere, and are setting humanity up for using the technology to make slight improvements to our lives in the future.

for those curious, here’s actual gameplay:

Posted from DIG101 by Tucker C.

Are Bots Becoming Human?

When reading How To Think About Bots, I realized that most of the things that these bots were doing were considered to be human actions. They were buying things of the dark web and acting independently of the humans that made them. That begs the questions can bots be considered independent of their creators? Or maybe even human?

I think these are important questions to ask, especially in the age of rapid progress in AI and bot technology. It might also to be asking certain questions as to the authorship or responsibility of works of literature or actions in a certain situations in which the bot generated literature or bought drugs on the Internet. This idea of authorship relates to my DIG 220 class in which we have pondered whether or not bots should be credited as authors or the people making the bots should.

It is interesting though to explore the responsibility of the bots for buying drugs. For example, in How To Think About Bots says that even though the drugs that were bought were in ownership of the people who made the bots, “our lawyer and the Swiss Constitution say art in the public interest is allowed to be free” (Power). But isn’t this a loophole in the system? Honestly, I don’t think that this should be able to happen legally. It is a sly way to buy the 10 ecstasy pills, which are illegal, but since it was a bot, it is not illegal.

In think that these scenarios illustrate the way in which technology are becoming more and more like human beings in the way that our actions are becoming more and more similar as time passes. My question to you is: should they start to be treated as people?

I think this image illustrates my point of how I think that bots are becoming more like humans and should be treated like humans because of the way technology is advancing


Posted from My blog by Will M.

Smarterchild and Eldercare Bots

I’ll never forget my first online account. I was in fourth grade when my friends told me about AIM instant messaging. Having grown up in a house with no other kids my age in walking distance, opportunities to talk to my friends outside of school during the week were highly limited if those friends were not on my baseball team. Naturally, I loved AIM and spent hours online chatting with my friends. However, there were times when I would get online to find that none of my friends were on at that time, and that’s when I discovered Smarterchild.

A sample conversation with Smarterchild (courtesy of Whiskey Riff).

Conversations with Smarterchild were interesting (especially to a bored 10-year-old) because of how human it sounded some times, and how clearly artificial it sounded most times. Either way, it usually made me laugh for a bit until I got bored and signed off. It entertained me, but never for longer than 10-15 minutes.

In his book The Industries of the Future, Alec Ross explains how the need for more eldercare in an aging population is driving Asian robotics companies to develop robots that can take care of grandma and grandpa. While such firms have successfully created robots that can perform a multitude of tasks for their dependents, developers are still struggling to create robots that can connect on an emotional level. However, as the AI that powers these robots advances, they will learn more quickly than ever, and will soon be able to mimic human emotions.

Courtesy of Dale Thomas on Quora.

Posted from DIG101 Blog by Noah R.

Can bots be trolls?

Last week in class, we discussed internet trolling at length. Essentially, these trolls are people who engage negatively with others online just because they want to. I found similarities in how Samuel Woolley talks about bots to how we talked about trolls in class.

The first thing that made me think of this was the story of a bot sending a death threat on twitter. A twitter user made a bot that took chunks of his tweets and rearranged them into new tweets. One of these new tweets sounded a lot like a death threat, and the Dutch police came knocking. Many examples of trolling on the more malicious end of the spectrum include making death threats to a target, like in the Gamergate “shitshow” where women received violent messages from online trolls.

The article’s discussion of bots also reminded me of trolls because of the difficulty in moderation. For both, the issue of free speech comes into play, because to limit bots or trolls could also limit free speech as a consequence. As Woolley says: “rumination on bots should also work to avoid policies or perspectives that simply blacklist all bots.”

The problem with comparing bots to trolls is that bots lack the sentience that trolls possess. One of the key points of a troll is that they get a kick out of what they’re doing to other people, and that is their motivation for continuing to troll. Bots, on the other hand, don’t have feelings, and therefore can’t get satisfaction out of what they’re doing.

via Twitter

Can a bot be an evil troll if they’re not even aware of what they’re doing? Is sentience a critical part of being a bully? These are questions that further investigation, persecution, and revision of bots will hopefully answer.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 by Alivia

Let bots be bots and humans be humans

Upon searching Twitter for popular bots, I found an interesting one with the handle: @DearAssistant. Ask the bot any question, and the algorithm that drives the bot will respond to you with an answer.

But wait. Don’t we already have something for that? Last time I checked, it was easier to get information with a quick google search than it was to use a Twitter bot for answers. Heck, I could just ask Siri some of these questions, and she should be able to get back to me within a few seconds.

Yet, this was a popular account (at least until it stopped tweeting in 2016), and the bot accumulated more than 4,700 followers. Clearly, the simple interaction with bots like these is what drives their popularity and existence. It’s not always the bot’s usefulness; I’m sure the user in the above example knew what day it was but still wanted to see the bot’s answer.

In this sense, How to Think About Bots hits it on the head with the idea of “botness.” The way a bot is “not convincingly human” is amusing to us.  If a human was asked “current time in London?”, I highly doubt he or she would respond down to the second like the bot did. That preciseness ( what makes a bot, well, a bot) is what drives us to adore these creations.

Look at this same user’s response to another question.

I remember a service called “Cha Cha” that you used to be able to text for answers to any question you may have. It was completely free for awhile, so long as you didn’t reply to any of “Cha Cha’s” promotional messages.

This service differed from today’s Twitter bots like “Dear Assistant” in that humans were the ones replying to our messages. Is it any fun to ask a human the time of day? Not really. But is it fun to ask some random human “Where’s Waldo?” or “Who is Grant Labedz?” Definitely.

That’s what the service became for me and my friends. It was intriguing to see what kind of witty, intellectual, creative responses these humans could come up with on the other end of the line. Some would actually have fun with it too and feed us with surprising responses that made us laugh.

In a sense, we expect different things from humans and bots. Bots are exciting because they’re bots. They fulfill their functions in a “bot-like” manner, and to us, that’s cool enough. From humans, we expect more. We want creativity, wit, and sometimes more than just information when asking a question.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 Blog by Grant L.

Youtube to MP3

In his article “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact”, Jonathan Sterne mentions a few things that resonate with me regarding MP3 files. When I got my first MP3 player as a kid, I remember using Napster on my home computer to transfer music onto the media player. My dad had gotten an MP3 player before me, so he was familiar with Napster and taught me how to use it. At the time, I really understood nothing about what I was doing outside of downloading MP3 files onto my MP3 player.

Fast-forwarding to high school, I had upgraded from my MP3 player to a new iPod touch. As I built my Apple iTunes library, I started to realize how expensive it was to buy music song-by-song. I waited patiently for birthdays and Christmas to ask for iTunes gift cards. Finally, though, a friend of mine showed me a new way to download music into my iTunes library: YouTube to MP3 converters.

Sceenshot of a YouTube to  MP3 Converter


While I could not find the exact one that I used to use, there now exist a ton of different sites that convert YouTube videos to MP3 formatted files and place them in an iTunes library. This discovery was critical for me. The process was certainly more time consuming, but it was free, and I now had access to any sound files, not just ones on the iTunes store.  I could download as much music from YoutTube as I wanted. Before reading Sterne’s article, I had never realized that the nature of MP3 files themselves made this transfer process possible.

To this day, even though I now have Spotify premium, I will occasionally still use these converters to put songs into my Spotify account that do not exist on Spotify. I have the Motion Picture Experts Group to thank for this ability.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 Blog by Patrick G.

The MP3: The Container Technology That Gave Way to More Container Technologies

The MP3 was revolutionary because it transformed not only how audio recordings themselves sounded to the listener, but also transformed the medium through which audio recordings were heard. The ability of the MP3 to serve as what Sterne calls “a container for containers” is what allowed it to be so accessible to users (828). It’s small size as a file gave way to new storage devices, or MP3 players, which transformed where and how people listened to music. The image below shows the first MP3 player to be developed.


Most familiar to me and my childhood was the evolution of Apple’s iPod. The first one I owned happened to be the blue iPod Nano (shown below), and when I lost it I remember feeling like my world came crashing down. The ease through which it made music accessible was amazing to me. I had every single one of my favorite songs on there. Suddenly, hour long train rides became much more manageable.



The ease through which MP3’s were able to be shared also seemed to give way to a whole world of music piracy. I remember the hype around Limewire and Frostwire, and the ease through which files could be downloaded, transferred in to iTunes or your MP3 players folder on your computer, and listened to on the way to school. My sister’s library seemed to be never-ending. While it is said that MP3 file formats dimish sound quality, I believe that the prioritization of quality was pushed aside by many in exchange for convenience and ease of access. I can’t imagine having to walk around today with a CD player to listen to my favorite songs.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 by Rosalia P.

The MP3 versus Taylor Swift

The MP3 serves as a medium for audio files to be compressed and more easily distributed. The MP3 is what makes streaming services like Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music possible. These streaming services don’t actually hold unlimited amounts of space for the audio data files, the files have to be efficient enough to be held and transported throughout the cloud. These services are useful for consumers because it allows us to be able to have access to our music files without having to physically store them on our devices. The consumption of music is a booming industry. It has become so central to almost every aspect of our lives. We can’t even imagine our phones without having the music app down at the bottom.

The MP3 was designed to maximize the portability of audio files, but unintentionally the MP3 has revolutionized the music industry. Artists are no longer selling physical albums and records like they use to. Everything these days is about how many times their songs get streamed or how many times it get viewed or listened to on YouTube. But one artist in particular is fighting the streaming industry. Pop singer Taylor Swift has removed her music from the Spotify platform. She states that the service devalues her music; she believes consumers should pay appropriately for her music. So while listening to music and access to music may be getting easier for consumers, some artists fell as though their sales are being hurt because of such streaming services. How do we decide what’s more important? Access and portability? Or artist profit? But with these advances in technology there are new ways for musicians like Taylor Swift to be profitable. While physical albums may not be as central as they use to be, advances in technology have offered social media as tools for increasing profit for entertainers.


Photo courtesy of Tech Crunch

Posted from Course Blogs by Shayla B.