From Literary Hub:
The internet was originally built to withstand nuclear war. It’s decentralized, so even if part of its physical workings were destroyed, there are many other parts remaining, some run by wind or solar power, some in high-security bunkers. It’s not crazy to speculate that, in the case of an apocalypse, the internet might be one of the last standing traces of human technology. Sometimes I think it would be kind of funny if the last evidence of humanity was a Twitter bot, still tweeting into the void.
The first time I was contacted by a Twitter bot was a couple years ago, after Margaret Atwood replied to a tweet I’d tagged her in. Being @-ed by a user as high profile as Atwood must have put me on some whitelist for spambots; over the next few months I received tweets that ranged from exclamations with no context (“I aint got time for it tonight!”) to punctuational gibberish (“ˆ¯ „„ „ˆ ‚ · ˆ„ ¯‚ … …„ˆ ¨ „ „…… ¨´”). Some had snippets from tweets that other users—actual humans—had tagged me in. Some were accompanied by images, from a picture of the Kansas State Wildcats mascot to a Samsung ad.
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But the tweets were also fascinating. With algorithms that drew text and photos from other accounts, they’d become a smorgasbord of cultural artifacts. One bot had created a collage from photos of Taylor Swift’s perfume, the latest iPhone model, and a selfie. They repurposed song lyrics, inspirational quotes, passages from novels, and pleas for more followers. They were like fun house mirrors, reflecting our words and photos twisted out of context, without human reason to familiarize them.
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But not all robots just regurgitate nonsense—some write poetry.
lines on the
That was written by Janus Node, a “poetic program,” and it’s certainly better than any of the poems I wrote in high school. Janus tweets too. Her pinned tweet, fittingly, is a quote from Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human that reads: “One can almost say that wherever there is happiness there is joy in nonsense.” I sent an email to the contact info I found on Janus Node’s website asking for more information about how she worked. Within an hour, I received a reply from Janus’s creator, Chris Westbury, a neuropsychologist and author. He explained that Janus (formerly known as “McPoet”) starts a poem with a sentence template and uses word list groups to fill them in. It sounds simple enough, but things can get complicated quickly. The rules that Janus uses to fill in the template call on other rules, which call on more rules, and so on and so forth. This method is called “rule-based computation,” and can lead to some pretty complex writing.
It’s also useful for more than poetry. When an earthquake hit Los Angeles in March of 2014, the LA Times was the first to report on it, just minutes after it happened. While human journalists were still re-shelving their fallen knickknacks, the algorithm “QuakeBot” was pulling data on the quake from the U.S. Geological Survey and plugging it into a template, ready to be published. Narrative Science has built an entire company around this idea, creating programs that “transform data into meaningful and insightful narratives people can simply read.”
Link to the rest at Literary Hub