What do we Want from Bots?

Tiffany Chan


  1. What is a bot? (some history & examples)
  2. How do they work?
  3. What can we learn about or from them?

What is a Bot?

A program that interacts with other programs, things, and people.


It does so automatically — some might even say autonomously.


It is designed to imitate human conversation, interaction, and/or behaviour.

The Turing Test


Twitter bots

Bots that post to Twitter (duh). 

Images from The New York Times, Tumblr

What do we want from bots?

Absurdity, humour, surprise, playfulness

"The animating ideas here are augmentation; partnership; call and response.

The goal is not to make writing “easier”; it’s to make it harder.

The goal is not to make the resulting text “better”; it’s to make it different — weirder, with effects maybe not available by other means."


—Robin Sloan, "Writing with the machine"

Bot by Darius Kazemi

Bot by Casey Holderup

Bot by Martin O'Leary

Syntax vs. Semantics

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 

      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 

All mimsy were the borogoves, 

      And the mome raths outgrabe. 

— "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

Syntax vs. Semantics

Dog the ball fetched.

The dog fetched the ball.


Syntax vs. Semantics

The colourless green ideas slept furiously.

April is the cruellest month,...mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

It seems like one of those nights,
This place is too crowded.
Too many cool kids,

uh uh, uh uh

"Computers are never wrong..."

Computers are good at...

  • Counting and statistics
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Consistency
  • Accuracy

But they're not so good with...

  • Context
  • Ambiguity
  • Unforeseen or unpredictable situations

Image via Keatton Patti on Twitter

"I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of Olive Garden commercials and then asked it to write an Olive Garden commercial of its own..."

Image by Chris Rodley

Image by @teenybiscuit on Twitter

Moravec's Paradox

"The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard."


     —Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct

"Computers are never wrong..."

...or are they sometimes?


Digital Scholarship Commons, 3rd Floor Library

Email: tjychan@uvic.ca

Twitter: TiffChan29

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