Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Anti-Anti-Science Chatbot

Have you ever participated in a near endless online discussion with someone who has their own definition of science and reason?


Do you happen to have some computer programming skills?

If you answered yes to those, it may have occurred to you to write an automated program to automate replies to bad arguments. I have certainly thought about it more than once, but I don't have the right set of programming skills to carry this off very well, nor do I have the time for that sort of fun. Fortunately, someone else does.

Nigel Leck, a software developer by day, was tired of arguing with anti-science crackpots on Twitter. So, like any good programmer, he wrote a script to do it for him.
The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn't happening or humans aren't responsible for it.

Now before this turns into the wrong argument, this post isn't about AGW one way or the other, or any specific point of disagreement. Solving real problems requires than people communicate honestly with one another, and automated replies do nothing to create real communication. Someone will create an "auto-bot" sending automated messages to tie up the "anti-bots" (assuming this hasn't happened already), and anti-anti-bots to tie-up the anti-bots and ... ... you get the idea. Pretty soon people won't be in the loop at all, and people just won't communicate.

The XKCD webcomic recently presented a different take on a similar problem with SPAM. If you have enough bots creating comments, and all comments must pass a filter of being "Constructive and Helpful", you effectively filter out all the people who are not capable of constructive comments as well. MFA.

XKCD: Constructive

In the comments on the Chatbot article, someone starts slinging the words "ad hominem" around without really knowing what it means. This might be another good response to program into the Chatbot.
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