Posted: 11/10/18

A new book on bots titled Twitterbots: Making Machines that Make Meaning, by ADAPT researcher Dr Tony Veale and Dr Mike Cook of the University of Falmouth, was recently published by MIT University Press.  The book explores Twitterbots, autonomous software systems that send messages of their own composition.  Automated accounts are often thought of with negative connotations due to news about bots manipulating social media and spreading wrong information but in this book the authors explore their creative side and tell the story of online bots.

Twitter’s open application program interface (API) allows external programs generate their own content on the platform and some of these external programs are automated, otherwise known as Twitterbots. It is estimated that approximately 15% of Twitter’s 330 million accounts may be bots, capable of creating content or more bots, and subscribing to and amplifing the content of others.  They have been connected with skewing elections, spreading fake news and mis-information. 

Twitterbots author, Dr Tony Veale, sees them as a form of automated art, a “meta-creativity”, and is more interested in their creative side. Speaking about the book he said: “This new book is all about the creative kind of bot. It presents the history of Twitter and Twitter bots, and introduces you to the fascinating people who make up the Twitter bot community. Some of those people have built great free tools that make it easy for you to build creative bots of your own design. The book will show you how.”

“The best bot narratives are pretenseful but unpretentious, fake but not phone.  Fortunately, while bots might well be used to automate the spread of corrosive nonsense, most bot-framing strategies don’t.” In fact, the authors conclude that bots can use their own brand of fakeness to expose the untruths of others without becoming compromised in the process. 

Twitterbots presents us with a new perspective on automated-bots.  It compares them to humans and notes “like humans, they explore their own little worlds, invent things of interest to say about their world. And like us, they tweet all hours of the day and night”.  The reader is presented with the building blocks to create simple bots that play with words and names, and more complex bots that can generate their own metaphors. Notably the book succeeds in demystifying these little robots that interact with us every day.

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