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I read Andrew Leonard's book:  Bots, the Origin of a New Species soon after it appeared in 1997.  It seemed to hint at a future of intriguing possibilities that I could not quite pin to the mat. Just lately I have come to wonder how some of the implications of the book were shaping up in our cyber-world more than a decade later.  Leonard closed his book saying that "Once annoybots and Websnarfs and modbots really start to run wild, current levels of equilibrium will seem like mere ripples on a pond of a windless day."

I am guessing that such "running wild" is descriptive of the automated (they must be automated-- nobody could write that stuff) messages that now appear as mindless comments to Livejournal blogs?  Although "annoybot" was originally defined as an autonomous program to intentionally disrupt chat rooms, I think the term works equally well for blogs too. Spambots must be held in check by modbots (site moderator bots)-- because only mindless bots are up for the endless game that is the controlling of other mindless bots! Apparently Websnarf is a web-crawler bot that has become extinct.  Good to know that not all bots are eternal.

But who are the human Gods who created these bots, and what are they thinking?  What is the impulse to anarchy that allows one to release bot-Armageddon upon a world already plagued with enough hardships to go around?

In this discussion a "bot" is just a logical active agent, created in computer code, that can perform automated functions in a computer network or on the Internet.  On a local computer a word like "macro" or "scripted procedure" or even "program" might be a better term.

The only positive side to the bot evolution seems to be the primacy of the search engine to our life-- our whole way (for those that embrace the Internet) of finding new things in the world, of checking facts, of wondering and learning has fundamentally changed.  A bot name Scooter, an advanced web-crawler that led to Alta Vista, an early search engine, is the precursor to Google.  While search has seemingly become a liberating new human privilege, it has an ugly backside called surveillance.  The tracks we leave online are invisible to us, but our lives are there to be read in the servers-- a conveniently humble term, but one that should make us ask: whom do these servers truly serve?

At this url: http://www.botsvsbrowsers.com/  there is a listing over over a million Internet bots.  What they do is briefly described, or perhaps what they were intended to do, or perhaps what someone wants you to believe they do.  What they actually do on the web is invisible to us.  A million different programmed intentions acting with consequences that effect our ability to function online for better or worse.

We can only hope that someday these bots, and yes, even auto-spell, will learn to help lift humanity up rather than destroy it.

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Cydonia photo: ESA

This is the journal of David Ross
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