Spambots’ Becoming

Out of respect for James Bridle (links: booktwo + The New Aesthetic), whose recent Lift Conference lecture, “We Found Love in a Coded Space,” lays substantial groundwork for this post linking Twitter bots to Deleuze’s concept of the virtual, I’ll open by transcribing his talk’s conclusion so you’ll know whose ideas come from where. [For the purposes of this course, I’m considering watching Bridle’s lecture online and gathering Twitter bot precedents my “field work”]. If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter bots, @Horse_ebooks is an ideal example, a Twitter account with a cult following that obliquely promotes an ebook-store of the same name by automatically tweeting random pieces of text apparently scraped from ebooks and websites. Scan through @Horse_ebooks for a minute, then jump into Bridle’s concluding remarks:

We share the world with these things… They’re co-created between our imaginations and the network. We increasingly inhabit this incredibly coded world—we’ve outsourced so much of our histories and emotions to the network that our stories are already extant in the world like Borge’s Library of Babel. We just need to put them in the right configuration for these stories to come out. Stories that are co-created by these vast, overlapping, virtual sensoriums that we can access through the network, many of which are artificial but no less real for it. They’re all out there, these consciousnesses, these ways of seeing the world, and what we need to be doing is to be sympathetic to them, to ask them into our lives, to try and collaborate with them rather than shut them down. Because they’re all looking for love. They want to speak to us. They want to be a part of the world, and all I ask is you look at them with happier eyes and invite them into the world and speak to them.

I contend, in an attempt to route Bridle’s ideas through Deleuze’s, that Twitter bots act call our attention to the virtual, ceaselessly sending probes on automatically generated lines of flight in attempts to activate emotion; and in their tireless pursuit of new connections, I think there is something inspiring about these spambots. Therefore, like Bridle, I believe both their approach and their specific probes should be embraced in order to generate new possibilities for our own thinking.

A report issued last month by the e-security firm Incapsula claimed 51% of internet traffic was non-human, with the greatest piece of that non-human slice taken by “search engine and other bot traffic.” Though we may be inclined to assume that we, human internet users, are the (intended) audience of things published on the internet, the likelihood that a large portion—the largest even!—of Twitter bots’ readers are other bots engaging them by sending their own probes suggests a rich, immeasurable and ever-changing bundle of hypertext possibilities far more complex than could be imagined by any single entity’s programmer. This raises an important consideration of the virtual dimension of Twitter bots: as they link with other bots in unforeseeable ways, together automatically generating new pathways through the internet and new connections waiting to be actualized by consumers, the groundwork for those connections occurs in a virtual space.

The bot’s have a potential for connection with other Twitter users that cannot be simply traced to their own programming; it is outside of them, in this undefinable network of bots communicating with each other, and it is inside of them, still indelibly linked to their programmed pursuit of certain keywords. Bots do have their own subjectivities and certain capacities to be affected, making them open or closed in rigidly bounded ways; for example, one could imagine a bot seeking out instances of “Zappos.com coupon” and nothing else. But another bot comes along with a propensity for Zappos and also targeting people with blonde hair (to sell hair dye or something), and then another bot interested in hair dye but also fans of the TV show The New Girl… and so and so on, working routes through a huge percentage of internet traffic, if Incapsula is to be believed, so that our first bot’s interest in Zappos.com coupons does not, in fact, account for everything it’s capable of affecting and being affected by. There is a field of spambot potential, part actual and part virtual.

As such, bots may be useful to stimulate creative thought in humans, actualizing unexpected potentials among people open to being affected. As an unlikely example, @Horse_ebooks tweeting “Who Else Wants To Drive around using WATER as FUEL and LAUGH” might not lead me to buy an e-book, as the bot ostensibly would like, but might spur me instead to invent new possibilities for an experimental flume ride. I don’t have to engage specific content to be affected, though, which is fortunate because often bot postings lean toward incomprehensible gibberish. Instead—and this is the most useful part for me, at least—I can be inspired by the bot’s tireless drive into the unknown, the way it sends probes wherever it can without ever becoming discouraged, without being sure where they’ll land, and knowing that doing so might very well create something qualitatively new.

-Duncan Cooper

Bridle, James. “We Found Love in a Coded Space.” Lecture. Lift12. Geneva. 7 Apr. 2012. Lift Conference. 6 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. http://liftconference.com/.

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One Response to “Spambots’ Becoming”

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