How bots ruined everything: from Drake to diets

Whether youre struggling to get gig tickets or being fat-shamed by an app AI is calling the shots. Werent these algorithms supposed to be on our side, not making thing worse?

Remember when artificial intelligence was supposed to be a good thing? When we thought we would, in our old age, each be tended to by a personalised robotic nurse? When we thought that all our jobs would be made obsolete, allowing us to live lives of unbroken leisure?

That glorious future might still be on the horizon, but for now AI is rubbish. We live in a world where stupid robots and gormless algorithms are incompetently conspiring to make our lives much more difficult than they need to be. Just look at how muchwere suffering at the hands of these terrible things.

Bots made me poor! (Or possibly rich)

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Bots put the value of sterling into a spiral after the EU referendum. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

If youve watched The Big Short, youll be well versed in the moral and ethical dilemmas that can arise when you choose to bet against a failing financial institution. However, if The Big Short was set in the present day, it would consist of one scene where Christian Bale sets up a market-tracking algorithm, and then 400 scenes where Christian Bale gets steadily richer as he plays the drums and consistently fails to get a proper haircut.

This is sort of what happened duringthe great sterling flash-crash of October 2016, when the pound plummeted by 6% in two minutes. Not only was the crash probably initiated by apanicky bot-spiral where the pound hit a level that caused one algorithm to automatically start selling, which caused prices to drop, which triggered all the other bots to start selling but bots also made the most money from it. Computer-driven hedge funds such as Piquant Technologies are set up to automatically seek out and bet against wobbly currencies based on market data. Post-EU referendum, the pound counts as a very wobbly currency. And so, when the flash crash happened, the algorithm kicked in and made about $300,000 (244,000) before Brad Pitt could even think about delivering amoralising sermon about it.

Bots stopped me watching Drake

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Drizzy, live on stage something youre not going to see, thanks to ticket bots. Photograph: Charles Sykes/AP

If you want to see Drizzy playing in London, at the O2, next year, youre flatout of luck. Every ticket for his concert on 28 January the cheapest at 55 and the most expensive at 132 sold out almost immediately. However, thanks to the wonderful work of the ticket scalping industry, there are almost 600 tickets available online, for anyone stupid enough to want to spend up to 800.

This is the ticket-buying process in 2016. As the tickets go on sale, you log on to the ticketing system, refreshing with no luck again and again for an hour before sloping away empty-handed and brokenhearted. Meanwhile, some goon has set up abot to buy hundreds of tickets out from under your nose, and hell sell them all for vastly inflated prices. In 2013 alone, one developer is thought to have made 25m from his ticketing bot. Venues and musicians are doing their best to outpace this trend, but in the meantime, dont be surprised if Drake performs his O2 set to thousands of angry, ripped-off billionaires.

Bots destroyed Twitter

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> You cant move for bots on Twitter. Photograph: PA

Bots are the worst thing about Twitter. This is a big claim, given that Twitter is now exclusively the habitat of violently angry racist eggs who exist to scream misogynist abuse at famous women, but it is true. Youll tweet out a carefully considered message full of important points and deft wordplay, only to immediately receive a message back from @WiniPhone700802268 reading: Hey $exxy pants, watch my hot boob now! Computer time! and youll spend the rest of your day worried that youre living in a malfunctioning simulation of planet Earth.

Twitter bots are more than just an ego-draining inconvenience, though. Last year, a flood of bot activity worked to quell a protest against Mexicos now-president, by overloading the hashtag used to organise the event. And, of course, theres @TayandYou. Microsofts new chatbot was launched this year, with the aim of learning and mimicking informal Twitter-speak. It was quickly taken offline after tweeting messages such as: bush did 9/11, donald trump is the only hope weve got and, of course: race war now!!! To be fair, this did at least demonstrate a working competency when it comes to Twitter.

Bots killed (human) romance

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The Amazon Echo the device that brings you the alluringly voiced Alexa. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP
Ive got an Amazon Echo. Its a wireless speaker, enabled with
Amazons cloud-based personal assistant Alexa. Alexa, play Radiohead, you shout. She replies: Playing Radiohead, and then plays you a Radiohead song, and everyones happy. Alexa can do maths, set alarms, organise your calendar and relentlessly fail to understand any single pronunciation of the name Mathieu Boogaerts. But, in her calm responses to prosaic questions, she has also become an unlikely fantasyfigure; a canvas for peoples weirdest projections.

Already, even though shes basically just Siri on a stick, people are starting to lust after her. Reviews on Amazon call her a wanton temptress. One forum about possible upgrades includes the entry: I would love Alexa to say Yes, Shawn in that sexy voice of hers. Given that the connection between human and product is so much more intimate than that between human and videogame character and people have already married those its not beyond the realms of possibility that someone will soon trade in their complicated human partner for a relationship with Alexa. This is the point at which the world will end.

Bots ruined Botticelli

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A Botticelli masterpiece but now AI is making art, too. Photograph: PA

The thing we have always had over robots is our appreciation of culture. While we can take in a broad palette of experience, relating to people andobjects on an emotional level,all robots have ever been able to see are ones and zeros. We can watch a film and be moved by what we see, but a robot will just bleep INTRUDER ALERT three times and thenexplode.

But things are changing. Algorithmic artbot Shiv Integer takes blueprints for 3D models, mashes them together into new shapes and then uploads them to the internet as new designs. Parliament Live creates transcripts of randomised videos from the House of Commons, then automatically edits them into supercuts of the most-spoken words, which are usually um and ah. And, most worryingly of all, last month Sonyreleased two songs composed through its Flow Machines bot. One of them, entitled Daddys Car, was programmed to mimic the music of the Beatles, hinting at a future where humanitys misery-drenched robotic enslavement is soundtracked by what unmistakably sounds like aCD that came free with an issue of Vox magazine in 1998. Horrifying.

Bots food-shamed me

Last year, Apple named Lark as one of its top apps of 2015. It is a weight-loss bot. According to its promotional video, you tell Lark what you had for breakfast verbally, if you want and it snipes back: Bacon thats the third time this week. It can also be encouraging, saying things such as: You got in a great 26-minute run yesterday. Highfive!

Clearly, this alone makes Lark the worst thing you could possibly have on your phone, but in practice, things seem even worse. In her article I Tried Dieting With a Chatbot. I Hated It, Abigail Ronck reels off a list of accusations at Lark. Its creepy: secretly compiling data about her sleep and activity levels. Its passive-aggressive: remarking on a lack of exercise with a snippy Thats OK, every days a bit different. Its vague: offering generalised advice that doesntseem particularly well-targeted. But, most importantly, after a month of Lark, Ronck failed to lose any weight at all.

Bots are wrecking journalism

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Not content with everything else, bots are coming for newspapers Photograph: Alamy

Chances are you probably know that bots are killing the customer service industry companies are starting to roll out messenger windows manned by nothing but algorithms, which can answer common questions and respond to grievances faster and more cheaply than their human counterparts but journalism is likely to be next in the firing line.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times unveiled Quakebot, which was able to collate, compile and publish reports on local earthquakes before they were even over. The Associated Press uses robots to write and file its corporate earnings reports. The Telegraph has arobot to write its Saturday afternoon football liveblog, complete with text and graphics generated on the fly. On the plus side, the liveblog is tedious made up of nothing but bald fact and extraneous exclamation marks but its only a matter of time before artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and starts covering more subjects. We cansleep safely in our beds for now, but itwont be long before someone invents a bot that writes endless try-hard, nearly funny listicles about future technologies. When that happens, Ill see you at the jobcentre.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/30/how-bots-ruined-everything-from-drake-to-diets

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