Social networking bots are sets of algorithms that take on the duties of repetitive sets of instructions in order to establish a service or connection among social networking users. Various designs of networking bots vary from chat bots, algorithms designed to converse with a human user, to social bots, algorithms designed to mimic human behaviors to converse with behavioral patterns similar to that of a human user. The history of social botting can be traced back to Alan Turing in the 1950s and his vision of designing sets of instructional code that passes the Turing test. From 1964 to 1966, ELIZA, a natural language processing computer program created by Joseph Weizenbaum, is an early indicator of artificial intelligence algorithms that inspired computer programmers to design tasked programs that can match behavior patterns to their sets of instruction. As a result, natural language processing has become an influencing factor to the development of artificial intelligence and social bots as innovative technological advancements are made alongside the progression of the mass spreading of information and thought on social media websites.
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Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections, have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM, the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform, it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
The “stand-alone” application, where the chatbot runs on a single computer, integrates mostly some sort of system interface, allowing your chatbot to control certain aspects and functions of your computer, such as playing media files, or retrieving documents. It usually also has a graphical component built in, as well, in the form of an avatar (often female) that enhances interaction, thus improving user’s experience.
According to Richard Wallace, chatbots development faced three phases over the past 60 years. In the beginning, chatbot only simulated human-human conversations, using canned responses based on keywords, and it had almost no intelligence. Second phase of development was strictly associated with the expansion of Internet, thanks to which a chatbot was widely accessed and chatted with thousands of users. Then, the first commercial chatbot developers appeared. The third wave of chatbots development is combined with advanced technologies such as natural language processing, speech synthesis and real-time rendering videos. It comprises of chatbot appearing within web pages, instant messaging, and virtual worlds.
If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.
“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners