My second worst addiction is Yahoo! Chess, where you can find players of all skill levels--night and day--for a 4-minute blitz game.
Like any web community, Yahoo!Chess has an Instant-Message window, where the chatter alternates between chess nerds flirting and homophobic racists spouting names at Bush-whacking foreigners. That is, until about a year ago, when the streets of our cyber neighborhood--like those of any thriving economy--attracted the online equivalent of hookers. In order to drive traffic to their pornographic web sites, these clever bots engage players with flirtatious chatter crafted to simulate genuine chess-playing hotties.
While the chat window hadn't previously interested me, I now enjoyed watching these bots fool even chess masters smart enough to force checkmate in seconds with just a bishop and a knight. Finally, profit has motivated the development of artificial intelligence that can pass Turing's Test with an A!
Sidebar: the Turing Test
In 1950, the father of computer science Alan Turing published "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" in which he proposed a practical alternative to the meaningless rhetoric around the question of whether machines can think. Turing observed that it would be difficult to deny the presence of cognition in an artifically intelligent machine if a human judge, communicating textually with both the machine and another human being, cannot identify which is which. An unclaimed prize awaits the programmer whose invention passes the test, and meanwhile an annual prize awards the best contenders. (You can appreciate first-hand the progress made from Eliza in 1966 to Jabberwacky in 2005.)
Unlike other AI engines, the Yahoo! bots do not even incorporate the human being's questions into their responses. Rather, they exploit the disjointed nature and shallow personae of adolescent chat to spoof a teenage girl, as demonstrated by these pearls of wisdom recently quoted--typos and all--from A_busty_babe_cc_32 (interjected with comments from armandolinares001, a naive suitor):
can any guys beat me?you play good19/f bored with pics in profilecan i see?Hi... 19/f :-) Pics in my profiledo you have a profile?oOOooOoooyeah, in my profileohharmandolinares001: hitee heearmandolinares001: wat?are you married?armandolinares001: no u?I love cheesy poofsyou play good19?F/Cali web cam and pics in my profile!I'm feelin gfriskylololthats hot
The enterprising authors of these bots obviously found a market because, as I expected, Yahoo!Chess was soon overrun by them, competing for attention in the sort of bot-on-bot action seen below.
With the bots obviously working--so to speak--I was surprised two weeks ago when they suddenly disappeared, just like that. (For readers of the novel Earth Abides, the life cycle of internet scourges like this one recall the rise and fall of species in the power vacuum of post-human Earth.) And then, just as suddenly one week later, they all re-appeared, as if returning en masse from the Hooker Bot Conference in Vegas.
The only clue I have to their mysterious hiatus is the difficulty logging into game rooms that week, often trying several times before I could get in. In their game of cat and mouse with the pornographers, was Yahoo! testing a new filter mechanism? My guess is that it excluded the bots at the expense of user experience, forcing a retreat to the staus quo.
So the bots are back, but like any good internet scourge (email viruses, spam, P2P song theft, click fraud...), the scammers colonized so quickly that they overhunted their prey--the Fooled Chess Player is now as rare as Japanese coastal tuna or American Buffalo.
Meanwhile, if you're seeking a real bot relationship, I recommend you find one with broader and less prurient interests. The best one out there is Spleak, who will buddy up with any user of MSN Messenger.
Ed. note: If you don't believe this story, check out Yahoo! Chess for yourself (and while you're there, invite me to your table for a quickie).
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